At 5:30 a.m. the downtown Victoria YMCA opens it doors to a sea of people, most with grey hair.
“They’re lined up around the block,” said one YMCA employee. “For some seniors, coming to the Y is a big part of their day.”
For 87-year-old Bill Hughes, visiting the community centre is a daily routine – and one that keeps him feeling young.
“I don’t look a day over forty,” Hughes said, chuckling. “I’m as sharp as I’ve ever been.”
The daily exercise and “the nice people” he meets at the Y’s Health Club makes him happy, he added. Plus, there’s perks—free talcum powder and hair products — “if you have any hair.”
A former professional water skier, Hughes retired thirty years ago, the same year he joined the Y where classes for suitable for seniors include: Senior Strength, Senior Cardio, and in the pool, Gentle Flow Aqua and Gentle Aqua Fit.
Senior Strength was so popular that another class was created to manage the overflow, said program supervisor, Litzia Eccleston,
Hughes’ favourite class is Cyclefit, which is held in Burt’s Bike Room, named for the 94-year-old regular who left provisions in his will to outfit the room. Hughes believes regular cycling staves off Alzheimer’s Disease.
“It pumps that blood to the brain, and Alzheimer’s is about blood congestion, so anything that helps that flow is good,” he said.
There are currently 584 gym members between the ages of 70 and 80 and 127 in the 80 to 90 age bracket and 11 members in the over 90s club, who receive free membership.
And for seniors in Victoria, there’s more than one choice to get the daily workouts in.
Retired physiotherapist Stephen Lamb attends up to three exercise classes at the Juan de Fuca Recreation Centre. The 84-year-old believes regular physical activity helped him recover from a stroke in Feb. 2017.
“Oh, God, yes,” he said. “As soon as a person regains consciousness and they can move around, they gotta get at it.”
Lamb worked for 60 years and retired only two years ago. He said he’d be much stiffer and probably weaker without moving daily.
“No matter what your age, regular exercise will make a difference in your life,” said Dr. Ian Bekker, who works at the Saanich Peninsula Health Unit Geriatrics Clinic.
“In the hot air balloon ride of life, age is like the opening at the top of the balloon slowly bringing you back to earth, while exercise is the fire at the bottom of the balloon that keeps your view marvellous,” he explained.
After the age of 40, the body is “increasingly interested in winding things up,” Bekker added.
“Exercise is the only way to signal to the body that vitality is still required. Telling your body to swim, climb, row or bike is speaking to all the cells of your body, ‘There are still things left to do, keep this body in good shape.”
In almost every one of his geriatric assessments, Bekker recommends more exercise.
“It is going to reduce their chance of falling or reduce the progression of their dementia,” and he gives the analogy of squeezing a ball to make the hand stronger.
“Alternatively, anything that is good for your cardiovascular health is good for your brain. Sweat on the outside releases brain building chemistry on the inside.”
Although starting an exercise program may be daunting, Hughes, who is looking for to joining the Y’s over 90s club, advises: “Take your time, stop when you need to and don’t try to keep up with anyone. Go at your own pace.”