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Superfit over-60s: why they're not the retiring type

Forget the pipe, slippers or knitting needles, a new survey has revealed how people who have left the workplace are living life at a cracking pace. Three people tell Stephanie Bell how life has never been better

Published 18/03/2016

Betty Carroll from Lurgan
Betty Carroll from Lurgan
Ace guy: Gordon Lunn keeps fit with tennis, but is learning to play bridge with a view to the future
Early riser: Margaret Parker and her brother walk in Lurgan Park daily

Most of us dream of taking things easy when we retire, but a new generation of super-fit and active retirees are showing that life begins when you leave your work days behind.

With families reared and full-time jobs no longer draining their energy, today’s older generation is embracing new opportunities to keep fit, stay busy and make new friends.

New research has shown that stopping work is good for your health, with those who retire exercising an hour and a half more each week than workers.

Retired folk also sit down less and sleep better than the rest of us.

There is even a new movement which is spreading rapidly across Northern Ireland called the U3A — University of the Third Age.

U3A is aimed entirely at helping retired and semi-retired people be involved with a large range of life-enhancing and life-changing opportunities.

But it is not just keeping fit that is top of these busy retirees’ to-do lists, as many are finding that there aren’t enough hours in the day for new hobbies and socialising.

We talked to three local people who dramatically changed their lifestyles on finishing work and as a result are feeling fitter and enjoying a whole new circle of people and interests.

Betty Carroll (62) is a retired school teacher from Lurgan. Widowed, with two grown-up children, Laura (30) and Craig (27) and one nine-week-old grandson Freddie, she taught Careers, English and French at Brownlow College, Craigavon before she retired five years ago. She says:

Since I took early retirement, I have never been busier.

“I wanted to keep healthy and fit and being a widow I also wanted to make new friends.

“There is not a day when I am not doing something and, in fact, I struggle to find time to do housework.”

Betty has now swapped the classroom for pedal power.

“I am a member of the U3A cycle club which is for retired people and we meet every Tuesday morning to cycle around 20 miles together.

“I also play badminton once a week and I do pilates. I have joined a book club and Lurgan Musical Society and I am a member of my local over-50s club Young at Heart.

“We meet twice a week for a range of different activities such as pilates, dance, line dancing, aerobics or first steps exercising and we also meet on a Friday for swimming.

“When I first retired I also joined The Cedars Walking Group, which gave me such a buzz. The feeling you get from standing on the top of a mountain is just unbelievable. The group has been wonderful and I have met so many great people through it.”

Now, she is more active than ever, adding: “I just love getting outside into the fresh air and socialising and meeting new people. I like to keep busy. My life is fuller now than it ever was.

“I would have tried to walk every Sunday with the children when I worked, but I had no time or energy for anything else. It was just work, eat, sleep and look after your family and I was lucky to get out at all.

“Life now and before I retired are like day and night. There is just so much out there to do and there are so many other things I would love to do, but don’t have the time. I would love to join a gardening club, but I can’t fit it in. Every day I am doing something and I now have a new grandson who I love to spend time with.

“Weekends I take a rest, but my  life during the week has never been busier and it’s fantastic.”

Gordon Lunn (70) is a retired businessman from Lurgan. He and his wife Barbara (68) ran the Gordon Lunn shoe shop in the town until they retired 15 years ago.

The couple have three grown up children, Clare (41), Julie (39) and Jonathan (37) and eight grandchildren.

Gordon says he found a new lease of life when he retired.

He plays tennis every week, is a leader and member of the Cedars Walking Group and is involved in voluntary work in his local community.

His determination to keep busy has seen him start to prepare for the years ahead by learning to play bridge, so that he has something else to do when the day comes that he can no longer play tennis.

Gordon says: "You need to plan ahead. Four of us, with a combined aged of 270 years, play tennis every week. When I am 80 and might no longer be able to do it, I want to have something else to occupy me, so I am currently learning to play bridge.

"When you retire you have to have a purpose in your life. When you challenge someone to do something they think they can't do - as we often do in the walking group - it gives them a great sense of satisfaction when they achieve it.

"It is also good for your well-being when you do something that you know you can get better at. For me, it is also about keeping fit and keeping your weight under control and keeping out of the doctor's surgery.

"There are so many opportunities out there and U3A is developing rapidly in Northern Ireland and offers lots of different activities for people who are looking for something to do.

"I also love my walking group. It is a great way to make friends. We are not just walking but talking, and you meet so many interesting people.

"With all these things men are the worst at getting themselves out and they need to do it."

As well as regular exercise the former shop owner has developed a new skill.

"I have been volunteering with the Lurgan Cancer Research Committee for a number of years and I find the work very satisfying.

"Through the walking group we needed minibus drivers and since I retired I have learnt a new skill and got my minibus driving license.

"That has also allowed me to volunteer with DART, which is our local voluntary community transport group. These are things we never made time to do when we worked.

"When people retire there must be some things on their mind they had always wished they had tried and now is the time to do it.

"I am reasonably fit and can still ski in the mountains and we also have more time for holidays now. We bought a camper van when we retired and we've covered a fair bit of Europe in it.

"Keeping busy and having some purpose to your week, but also being flexible, is important. It doesn't have to be rigid, where you have something on every morning, afternoon and evening so that you don't have time to do anything else if you are asked."

Margaret Parker (69) from Waringstown retired from the civil service 10 years ago. Margaret, a widow, has one son Stephen (42) who lives in England and two granddaughters Jessica (10) and Niamh (8).

She says: "When I retired I didn't do anything for the first year and it was lovely just being at home, but after a year I knew I needed something to get up for in the mornings.

"I also wanted adult company, as a lot of my friends still worked.

"It was very important to me to have something to do and a reason to get up in the mornings.

"I spend Mondays and Tuesdays doing voluntary work. I volunteer with my local senior citizens luncheon club from 10am until 2pm on a Monday and then on a Tuesday I do administration work for the local charity Love for Life from 9am until 1pm.

"I also play tennis twice a week, in the summer and winter and badminton one morning every week.

"I'm an early riser and would meet my brother at Lurgan Park every morning at about 7.45am to walk round the park.

"Thursday and Fridays are my free days, when I like to meet up with friends for a coffee or have them visit me for coffee.

"Gardening is also one of my favourite things to do.

"Now, I have time to travel, so I visit my son in England every six or seven weeks and I have a friend who is retired in France who I visit once a year. And there is another retired friend who I go on holiday with once or twice a year.

"My health is good and I feel that the exercise keeps me that way, as when I sit for any length of time I can get really stiff.

"I only play doubles in tennis, as I wouldn't be fit enough to play singles.

"Sitting at home all day alone would make me feel like a couch potato, so I feel better doing something.

"Fortunately, I have my health and am able to keep busy."

Margaret Parker (69) from Waringstown retired from the civil service 10 years ago. Margaret, a widow, has one son, Stephen (42), who lives in England and two granddaughters, Jessica (10) and Niamh (8). She says: "When I retired I didn't do anything for the first year and it was lovely just being at home. After a year though, I knew I needed something to get up for in the mornings.

"I also wanted adult company, as a lot of my friends still worked.

"It was very important to me to have something to do and a reason to get up every day.

"I spend Mondays and Tuesdays doing voluntary work. I volunteer with my local senior citizens luncheon club from 10am until 2pm on a Monday and then on a Tuesday I do administration work for the local charity Love for Life from 9am until 1pm.

"I also play tennis twice a week, in the summer and winter and badminton one morning every week.

"I'm an early riser and would meet my brother at Lurgan Park every morning at about 7.45am to walk round the park.

"Thursday and Fridays are my free days, when I like to meet up with friends for a coffee or have them visit me for coffee.

"Gardening is also one of my favourite things to do.

"Now, I have time to travel, so I visit my son in England every six or seven weeks and I have a friend who is retired in France who I visit once a year. And there is another retired friend who I go on holiday with once or twice a year.

"My health is good and I feel that the exercise keeps me that way, as when I sit for any length of time I can get really stiff.

"I only play doubles in tennis, as I wouldn't be fit enough to play singles.

"Sitting at home all day alone would make me feel like a couch potato. I feel better doing something.

"Fortunately, I have my health and am able to keep busy."

Belfast Telegraph

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