Some of Mumbai’s most spirited senior citizens are proving that passion for good health comes with no expiry date
Speaking on the topic of ageing, the Italian-born diva, Sophia Loren once remarked, “There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, and the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will truly have defeated age.” Her words resonate deeply with crores of Indians — a record 10.38 crore as per the 2011 census, to be precise — who find themselves at the forefront of India’s senior citizen boom. While 60 may be the official age of retirement, many of India’s elderly are using the milestone as a reminder to themselves to live their lives to the fullest, whether in terms of reinventing their careers, giving wings to their passions or overhauling their fitness routines. Four such individuals who have transformed their lives, and those of so many others, speak about their passion for living life beyond numbers.
Bhathena’s love for the water began early — “around the ’50s,” she estimates — when the city had only a few swimming pools and these were off limits to most people. Unable to gain membership, she decided to teach herself swimming by literally flinging herself into the great blue sea. One thing led to another and soon, she was swimming competitively, with long distance swimming being her forte — her most distinctive accolade, she tells us proudly, was a 15-hour swim from Dharamtar to the Gateway of India. After many years of dominating the competition circuit, a muscle tear in her left arm left her unable to swim competitively any further.
“I then decided to share my passion with others, by teaching them how to swim,” she reminisces. “At first, I began teaching my friends and their children, and their enthusiasm encouraged me to take up coaching on a professional level. Today, I have been coaching professionally for 51 years and have trained three generations of swimmers.” Among the many thousands of students Bhathena has trained are several nationallevel champions and even a world-renowned Olympian, Michael Klim. “I taught Michael how to swim when he was barely three years old, and studied at Green Lawns High School at Malabar Hill. He was one of my brightest students. One of my most prized possessions is a photograph he sent me of him holding up his Olympic medals with the message ‘What I am today is because of you.’ For me, that was immensely gratifying.”
From teaching children as young as three to coaxing 75 year-olds into the pool for the very first time, the Dadar-based, 82-year-old Bhathena continues to do it all with her inimitable flair even today. “For me, swimming is more than sporting activity — it is a life skill and also an experience that my students can share with their families.” To this day, Bhathena’s coaching roster is packed with activities. “I work from early in the morning to late in the evening. I even work on Sundays. When you love what you do, I sdon’t think there really is any other way,” she smiles.
Josephine Fernandes, 70+
“Early on in my life, I realised that my body is the greatest gift that I have been given, and that it is the only tool that can help me to become whatever I want to,” Fernandes shares. A polio diagnosis at the tender age of seven could not stop her, and neither could her doctor’s verdict that she would never be able to run or walk like the other children. “I knew I had to fight back. I used positive affirmations and the power of my subconscious mind to heal myself. At the same time, I did everything I could to stay fit and healthy.”
Born in the ’40s, when the concept of fitness had yet to find acceptance in India, Fernandes often found she was the odd one out. “Although my family didn’t understand my passion, I would use every opportunity to exercise and to keep learning new techniques to stay fit.” For 25 years, she was employed as an export manager, a role that saw her travelling the world. “Wherever I went, I would use the hotel’s gym facilities to work out. By the ’90s, I had begun taking fitness classes before and after work. I wanted to change the common assumption that diabetes, blood pressure and other ailments are a regular part of growing old.”
At the same time, Fernandes was also keen on working with women. “Women are often brought up with the expectation that they must dedicate themselves completely to their families. In the process, their own health and aspirations become their last priority. I realised that my fitness classes would offer me a channel to reach out to women.” And so, she resigned while at the top of her career in 2008, and started taking fitness classes.
The 70-year-old Mulund resident has been teaching fitness for more than four decades now. “Some of my trainees have been with me for the last 30 years. They are growing old and staying young with me,” she laughs.
Veena Iyer, 68
“I once read that anyone who keeps learning always stays young, regardless of their physical age. This inspired me to pursue my Diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (jointly run with Kolkata Sanved) at the age of 64, after I had retired from a fulfilling career in banking.”
Dance movement therapy is more about movement and less about structured dance, she explains. Participants do not need to have prior knowledge of or expertise in any dance form. Iyer herself had no prior connection with the performing arts, except in an administrative role. “The DMT sessions create close bonds between participants, and this encourages them to become more outgoing and expressive,” she says.
Iyer has undertaken an advanced trainer course. Now 68, this Chembur resident conducts workshops for senior citizens, differently-abled children and Parkinson’s patients, and is actively engaged in raising awareness about the many benefits of DMT. She has also worked with women rescued from human trafficking, and encouraged them to heal with DMT. “The satisfaction I attain from helping others to shift from ‘illness to wellness’ is indescribable, and encourages me to keep doing what I do every day.”
When Keswani first retired after 41 hectic years of working for an insurance company, her family members worried that she wouldn’t have a busy enough schedule to keep her occupied and mentally engaged.
“My son encouraged me to join a gym and take up swimming. And this sparked off a whole new journey of wellness.” She joined the Tata Institute of Social Sciences’ senior citizen’s club and took to its activities with enviable gusto.
Today, Keswani can proudly say that from yoga and meditation to Bollywood dancing, she has done it all. “Our club hosts many performances at auditoriums and other venues. I encourage all the members to take part in these shows.”
Keswani’s day begins at the crack of dawn, with an invigorating 6-7 km walk, and draws to a close with a postdinner stroll. “Recently, I have also started running.” In addition to exercise, Keswani is quite conscious about what she eats.
“Good nutrition has helped me gain energy,” she says.
█ I work from early in the morning to late in the evening. I even work on Sundays. When you love what you do, I don’t think there really is any other way
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“Regular exercise improves bone health, lowers cholesterol levels and leads to lower incidences of heart diseases for senior citizens. It also improves balance, reducing the tendency to fall,” says Dr Ameet Pispati, director, orthopaedic surgery, Jaslok Hospital. “Senior citizens seeking to take up an exercise routine can explore activities such as brisk walking, riding stationary bikes, swimming and dancing. Toning with 2.5 pound dumbbells at the gym can improve muscle health.”
At the same time, seniors must go for regular health check-ups, and, while working out, they should wear loose clothing and padded shoes, the doctor recommends. It is best to start slow and gradually build intensity.
Mahesh Jayaraman, Health Advisor at Sepalika.com, adds, “Good nutrition is essential for senior citizens, especially those taking up an exercise routine. Deficiencies of calcium, Vitamin D3 and magnesium are common after the age of 60, and appropriate supplementation is advised. It is helpful if the dietary supplement contains Vitamin K2, which deposits calcium on the bones rather than in the arteries.” Consulting dietician Sheela Tanna adds, “Taking too many supplements can cause acidity. It is more important to consume a balanced diet packed with nutrients.”.