Oxfordshire pensioners are fit for purpose with Granny Joan and her pals

Witney Gazette: Joan Creese stretches out Joan Creese stretches out

ON January 26, Joan Creese will celebrate her 80th birthday with a bracing walk – across the 1.7mile, 220-feet high Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Most sightseers only venture as far as the first tower, but Mrs Creese is not one to shrink from a challenge.

Her career as a fitness instructor started 50 years ago and as she turns 80, she is still teaching four exercise classes in Oxford each week.

Mrs Creese said: “I suppose 80 is still a pretty good age to be leading keep fit classes, but I enjoy it and it has been a godsend to me since I retired from nursing, giving me a new purpose, a new career and also keeping me fit and healthy.”

The grandmother-of-six from Stanton St John is one of a growing number of senior citizens who not only enjoy exercise themselves, but are also promoting it to other older people across the county through Age UK Oxfordshire’s Generation Games programme.

Mrs Creese was an orthopaedic nurse before retiring at 60 and helped people get back on their feet following surgery such as hip and knee replacements. She now teaches two classes for Age UK Oxfordshire and two for the sports centre for people with disabilities, Oxsrad.

She said: “I think older people are more active now generally. Education about staying active is better, it’s more acceptable for widows, for example, to get out, join groups and meet new people, and I think people are realising that if we are living longer, we need to stay fit for longer.”

Age UK Oxfordshire runs 33 weekly classes across the county, while its Generation Games programme enables people to match their interests and their physical capability to hundreds of pastimes, from walking to Tai Chi, swimming to scuba diving.

Mrs Creese said: “Many older people want to see what they are capable of, but perhaps feel intimidated by a gym environment, and that’s why an older peoples’ exercise class can be ideal.

“Retirement can affect you deeply. You lose your mental stimulation, you’re maybe not getting out so much and it’s easy to slip into inactivity.

“But the groups I run through Age UK provide people with the opportunity to exercise and maintain their fitness while also meeting new people. Exercise is as much about keeping your mind fit and well as it is your body.”

Seated or standing, Mrs Creese takes her class through choreographed exercise routines including a warm-up, light to more intense stretching moves, dance steps and a cool-down period. Mrs Creese has no plans to stop her classes even though she is becoming an octogenarian.

Ready for Generation Games

LAST year Age UK Oxfordshire in partnership with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, launched Generation Games, a three-year, not-for-profit service to inspire the 50-plus age group to participate in more regular physical activity and stay ‘Stronger for Longer’.

The Generation Games website (www.generationgames.org.uk) offers a list of all physical activity classes in Oxfordshire that are partnered with the service. You can sign up to become a member of the service for free, which enables you to access a bespoke activity prescription based on your state of health and lifestyle.

And for those not using the internet, the same prescription and signposting service is available by phone on 01235 849403.

This summer Generation Games launched a free exercise DVD, Generation Games: At Home and since it was featured in the Oxford Mail last month, copies have been in demand.

Anna Hegley, head of Generation Games said: “Following the Oxford Mail’s article about the DVD in November, 85 people have already called and requested the DVD, in addition to 500 requested since the summer – and the calls are continuing.”

The first exercise DVD for older people produced in Oxfordshire, Generation Games: At Home has been created in partnership with Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust’s Sport and Exercise Medicine Department and features 30 minutes of carefully-selected seated and standing exercises suitable for the over-50s.

Husband and wife Norman and Mary Serle, from North Leigh, have been using the DVD for a month.

Mr Serle, 82, said: “My wife is 83 and has rheumatoid arthritis and I had a stroke four years ago. We like to walk regularly, but saw this DVD and thought it was just ideal to get us moving more.’’

Olwen, 69, leads the way Olwen Radburn, 69, from Witney, has been teaching two classes for Age UK Oxfordshire (Freelands and Eynsham) for more than 10 years and says she has seen people regain their strength and independence.

She said: “I have had people turn up and been literally helped in by family. But within a few weeks those same people are walking up the stairs unaided. There are people in this class who have come religiously for eight years, a lot longer than people stick at the gym!

“My Eynsham group has seen numbers drop dramatically as people have become ill and it would be great to attract some new people in 2014.

“They will find a fun group, where they will quickly feel the benefit in their movement and they will probably make some new friends too. “I’m 69 but am constantly bowled over by what people much older than me can achieve. It would be nice to show others what they can achieve too.”

John Rapson 'pulls his soacks up'

Ex-ARMY Corporal, John Rapson, 87, is now one of Age UK’s exercise class conscripts and said it has helped him “pull his socks up”, literally.

After serving with the 8th King’s Royal Hussars – the Desert Rats – and working later as a delivery driver, Mr Rapson had to give up work due to illness at 62. He spent 15 years nursing his wife Violet until her death two years ago.

But he then made a conscious decision to get out and meet people and now attends Olwen Radburn’s Age UK Oxfordshire Class in Freeland. He said: “As a result of caring for my wife and doing lots of lifting, I had very painful shoulders and limited movement, and even found pulling my socks up difficult. “But as a result of going to this class and now doing Age UK’s DVD too, I’m in a better shape now at 88 than I have been for the last 20 years.”

Jean Foster classes

RETIRED nurse Jean Foster, 76, runs six exercise classes for the over-60s each week and is currently appearing in the video for the Christmas single, Oi Codger Be a Better Coffin Dodger! by Oxford slam poet Steve Larkin.

She said: “Exercise has opened up a new life and career to me. “The nearer retirement got, the harder it got to get my act together but one day a young woman at the surgery I was working at told me I would have to ‘re-invent’ myself and that was just what I did. Exercise has given me a new life.”

Age UK Oxfordshire

PAUL Cann, chief executive of Age UK Oxfordshire, paid tribute to Joan Creese and the charity’s other keep-fit tutors and urged older people to direct their efforts to staying fitter for longer.

He said: “There are good, sound reasons for getting out and exercising more. Take the 25 per cent reduction in cancer risk for example. “With the world summit on dementia we also know that what’s good for the heart is good for the head.

“But the reason Generation Games is so popular is that it’s about pleasure: that feelgood factor after going for a walk or a jog, or the buzz of meeting people out there.

“Yes, we are living longer and life expectancy is soaring at present, but what is also getting longer is the period of older age spent in ill-health. “Generation Games can do something about that.”

The workout

JOAN Creese may be about to turn 80 but she was soon putting me through my paces with the energy of someone half her age.
I arrived out of breath at East Oxford Community Centre for my mini-workout with Joan, said Mail reporter Emma Harrison. She was relaxed having already led a workout for older people.
Starting with some simple stretches and then some more energetic moves to an Abba soundtrack, Joan did not even break a sweat. At the age of 29 I can only hope I am as fit as Joan when I’m nearly 80.

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