Never2Old At The YMCA

Never2Old is an AUT initiative which is now franchised around gyms throughout New Zealand.

Ponsonby News visited the Y in Greys Avenue to check it out. Nearly 100 people attend two or three times a week, working on specially prepared programmes depending on their fitness levels. All go through an initial medical check up, usually with their own GP, and present this to the Y staff to assist in the development of their programme.

A happy group of oldies, many in their 60s or 70s, went through a warm up with instructor Gilly Voss, a Targeted Health Specialist, who has been with the programme for nearly 10 years, while Ponsonby News looked on. Gilly is herself a mature woman, who understands the limitations of older people. No 25-year-old hunks with bulging muscles were in sight.

Centre manager, David Cory Toussaint, showed me around and explained the programme. David has a BSports Science and is extremely popular with the Never2Old participants.

David is overseeing a major structural remediation of the YMCA building. When completed it will be able to house 1000 people to watch basketball and other sports.

As well as their specific programme, Never2Old members can join pilates or tai chi classes whenever they choose. Most go twice a week.

The social part of the membership is important. The group organises outings, morning teas, lectures and bike rides. They laugh a lot, talk together a lot, "exercising their jaws" as one wit described it.

Each member has regular medical check ups, and their individual programme depends on their level of fitness and takes account of any medical conditions. All wear name badges, some with coloured dots prominently shown. For example, if one has a heart condition they will have a red dot on their name card.

Balance and flexibility are often part of an individual programme. David explained that elderly people, especially those living alone have to be careful not to fall, as a broken hip is much more difficult to heal at an older age.

While I watched on, Gilly took about 35 members through a warm up which included all manner of stretches. Then they were all off on their own to go through their individualised programmes.

I had been a little sceptical that programmes were really actually carefully tailored to each person’s needs but, when I had a look at several programmes, they were all different and instructors were able to tell me why each member had certain repetitions on their list of ‘to do’ exercises.

All YMCA staff have New Zealand recognised fitness qualifications. It was emphasised to me that this was not a money making exercise by the Y - it is largely a service for the older citizen.

Gyms are often perceived as not welcoming to the less fit or the elderly - too much competition, too many show ponies, too many muscle bound 20-somethings. There was none of this on display at the YMCA the day I visited.

Ponsonby News spoke to several members who were there that day for their exercise. Penny Somervaille is a regular reader of the Ponsonby News and lives in Ponsonby. She has been going to Never2Old for about eight years. John Austin is a small, fit looking man probably in his late 60s, who has just started the programme, but he is a regular cyclist so he has taken to it like a duck to water. Bob and Neil are also fairly new to Never2Old. They told me they had had a friendly and warm introduction from all members and staff, and didn’t feel in the slightest intimidated by the experienced veterans, who were so fit. Marianne loves the tai chi classes and is a member of Ponsonby U3A.

Although AUT originated the Never2Old programme, it came first out of Green Lane Hospital, from their cardiac club. Regular exercise reduces the meds needed, even for those with severe heart or other medical problems. Elizabeth had a hip replacement last year. You just wouldn’t believe it. She is fit, supple, and looks like a tiny ballerina in action. She had been coming to Never2Old for nearly 10 years before her operation, was very fit, and her recovery was so much quicker than if she had not been so fit.

This was a happy group of exercisers, enjoying the work, chatting to their friends, some planning coffee together afterwards. It was clear to me that they were gaining tremendous benefit both physically and mentally from the Never2Old programmes at the YMCA. They keep each other at it, and most say they would never do it alone. It’s clearly as much the camaraderie as the exercise that appeals to them. They get fit while having fun. I may join. (JOHN ELLIOTT)