Pumping iron at 80: Grandmother Alice finds new lease of life at gym
Newry grandmother Alice McEvoy (80) tells Gail Bell how twice weekly fitness training has changed her life now that she's discovered a latent love of the gym
THEY say you are never too old to benefit from regular exercise and that is a piece of advice that Newry 'supergran', Alice McEvoy, is taking more seriously than most pensioners her age.
At 80 years old she is one of the most passionate – and definitely one of the oldest – regulars at her local gym where she has her own personal trainer and works out with weights twice a week, "never missing a session".
On reflection, she corrects herself to say that is not exactly true: a bout of septicaemia and an enforced hospital stay around the time of her 80th birthday in May "rather annoyingly" interrupted her weekly schedule with Conor Crilly of Crilly Personal Training.
And, the enforced 'exercise-free' period, as ordered by her doctors, did not go down well.
"It was the first time in my life that I had been in hospital and I didn't like being away from the gym," she says.
"But, the good thing was my doctor said my fitness level had actually helped my recovery.
"Apparently my breathing and heart rate had been factors in helping me bounce back and I was back home after five days."
Septicaemia may have temporarily knocked Alice off her feet, but there was no chance a simple shoulder injury would keep her away from her workouts.
"I had a stupid accident about three years ago, just as I was starting to get into the gym work, so I didn't want to give it up," she explains.
"I continued training while fitting in visits to my physiotherapist at the same time.
"I found the exercise really helped my shoulder heal quicker than it would have done if I had just been resting up on the settee."
Ironically, the injury was caused by a treadmill being used by her grand-daughter which was slowing down when Alice stepped against it and was unceremoniously "knocked into a corner".
"I never did like treadmills, but I love doing weights and I like 'planking'," she says.
"I also do bends and squats and I have become so supple that it helps me in everyday situations like getting down on my 'hunkers' to clean out the cupboards or lifting things from the boot of my car.
"I have more energy and strength and I think my shape has also changed. I have muscles now where I never had them before. I don't quite have a 'six pack' but I am definitely more 'sculpted'."
Alice, who has two sons and nine grandchildren, only decided to retire when she was 77, after spending more than 40 years working as a nurse at Musgrave Hospital in Belfast.
"In those days we were allowed to lift patients, so I had a strong back, but I wasn't as fit as I am now," she adds.
"When I was younger, I was more pre-occupied with dancing and fashion – going to the gym just wasn't the fashion back then.
"Then, after I retired, I was wondering what to do with all my spare time when my youngest son, Richard, suggested I join a gym. I went with a friend for the first time – a 'young thing' in her 60s – but she didn't take to it like I did and didn't go back."
For Alice though, pumping iron was her new jiving; a hobby which offered huge amounts of satisfaction – and she soon found she just wasn't getting enough.
"I started off doing just one session a week, but I found by the time the next week came round, it was painful and felt like starting all over again," she says. "It was actually easier the fewer rest days I had inbetween, so I started going twice a week.
"I still have time for gardening, which I love, and driving. I get into the car with a few friends and we take ourselves off, all over the country.
"Recently I drove to Co Wexford and we stayed there for five days – but I couldn't wait to get back to the gym."
Alice's dedication is an example to not only other 'ageing well' pensioners, but to everyone, according to her supportive trainer, Conor.
"Through the use of resistance training twice weekly, Alice has become stronger, fitter, happier and a big inspiration to others, particularly the elderly," he says.
"I think she is truly inspiring and I hope her story gets more people taking up regular exercise. I have honestly seen 20 year-olds struggle to do what she does. She's just great."
Age NI chief executive, Linda Robinson explains that the benefits of exercise for older people are well known and one of the most effective ways of positively influencing physical and mental health.
"Regular exercise can lower our risk of getting serious conditions such as stroke or heart disease and can add years to our lives," she says.
"And, importantly for older people, it helps maintain independence. Just 30 minutes per day of moderate exercise such as dancing or brisk walking can make a vital difference to health.
"It's never too late to take up a new form of physical activity, but anyone with any health worries should get checked out first by their GP."