Practising what I preach in exercise utilising the Living Longer Living Stronger program

Frank Smith

It is important when you write about ways of maintaining your health as you age, that you practise what you preach.

So I’ve been going to my local gym twice a week for eight years, missing only for holidays and injury.

I signed up for COTA’s Living Longer, Living Stronger program (LLLS) for seniors and when my Kalamunda gym ceased to offer the course, I moved to the Midland Leisure Centre.

Now I’m one of about 40 regulars who range from youngsters of 60 upwards.

The doyen of us is Olive still going strong at 87 and leaving many younger women for dead on the treadmill or lifting weights. As if that were not enough she mothers us all.

In theory members turn up at midday and start with 10 minutes of group exercises to warm us up, under the leadership of one of the trained instructors.

They then do a number of individually prescribed exercises with weights and aerobic exercises on the treadmills or stationary bicycles. Later there are more group exercises as a cooling down period.

I do something a bit different. For the past 16 years I’ve been living with spinal column damage that limits my mobility, so I concentrate on weights.

I start off around 11.30am with 20 minutes of the stationary bicycle. My target is to generating at least 55 watts. By this time I’m warmed up and therefore miss out on the class warm up exercises.

I then go on the weight machines until 12.45pm when I join the rest for class exercises for cooling down.

I aim for 90 minute workouts twice a week.

I’ve gradually increased the weights I push, pull and lift until I can mange 80kg on the chest press, something that the younger people in the gym do with ease, but not many of us oldies.

Along the way I’ve rebuilt strength and flexibility in my shoulder following a reconstruction after breaking the bone and tearing the ligaments in a fall three years ago.

While exercise is my main interest, the class has a social side. To some members that is clearly the main point of coming, but most combine chatting and exercising.

I have made no great effort to socialise but still know most of the regulars by name. The Leisure Centre puts on free coffee after the class for participants and at least half of them take advantage of this.

I often intend to, but by 1pm I am starving and hurry home for lunch. I also have an active social life independent of the gym, including interviewing many interesting people for Have a Go News.

Am I healthier as a result of the exercise? LLLS has certainly increased my strength and this is invaluable when I am in danger of falling.

I can’t say going to the gym is the highlight of my week, but if I miss out I regret it.

For me the main motivating factor is trying to do better each time I go.

I’m striving to eventually lift 100kg on the chest press.

I’ll let you know when I get there.

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Frank Smith was trained as an agricultural scientist in the UK, moving to WA in 1974 and shortly afterwards began lecturing at WAIT (now Curtin University) in soils and agronomy. In 1979 he joined the Agriculture Protection Board in charge of publications and media relations, studying part time for a degree in Journalism. In 1992 he spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Later he ran a small publication company with his wife Mary-Helen. He then began freelance writing, editing and book indexing. He has written articles for more than 40 magazines in four continents and indexed more than 20 books. In 2007 he started writing for Have a Go News and gradually reduced his writing for other publications. He later took over the subediting, ensuring Have a Go News is consistent in style and highly readable. He and Mary-Helen live in a passive solar home in the Perth Hills with a varying collection of quendas and native birds.