How to build confidence in new ways as we age
4 minute read
We share inspiring stories of people overcoming their fears and trepidations by trying out new activities and experiences in their communities.
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Until she had a fall three years ago, Marj Aitken, 82, was an enthusiastic practitioner of aqua aerobics. Now she’s had to give her hobby up, despite the health benefits it brought. Why? The problem is navigating the pool area.
“You have to walk from the shower room to the pool and in the ladies' changing room everything is tiled,” she says. “I’m just terrified of falling.”
Crucially, however, Marj hasn’t allowed her fear of falling to confine her to her home. She now exercises by walking around her garden in Enniskillen, while her work as chair of Southwest Age Partnership (SWAP) in Fermanagh and Omagh keeps her busy.
To address her fears, Marj is taking a falls prevention class that uses the Otago method. Initial classes deal with the causes of falls and how to keep safe, while another series is about confidence, muscle strength, balance and nutrition. After six weeks, she sees a huge difference in both her and her classmates.
“I’m much more confident,” she says. “I find I’m not using my walking stick now.”
Taking fall classes and learning helpful tips such as those found in the Age Co Falls Prevention Guide are just two ways to build confidence when you want to remain active in later life. People also opt for a personal alarm with built-in fall detection so they feel safe no matter where they are. These devices can make sure help reaches you quickly if you do have a fall. For example, all Age Co Personal Alarms are monitored 24 hours a day by Taking Care's specialist Emergency Resolution Team. This means help will reach you even if you are unable to respond.
Learning to worry less about what people think
By being adaptable and having the courage to try new things, Marj has been able to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite her fall. In some ways, it can be easier to do this in later life.
One of the benefits of older age is that people can start to care less about what others think of them. That helps when joining community groups on and offline.
“I think you almost grow out of the self-conscious thing you might have had when you were a teen and that’s quite healthy because it can restrict you,” says Alison McDowall, 63, who runs classes for the over-60s at the Rainbow Leisure Centre in Epsom, including a falls prevention class.
Dave Mungroo (73), who attends the centre’s gym, shares how despite his age still had self-esteem issues to overcome. “You tend to lose self-esteem when you get older, and loneliness kicks in, so by joining in you overcome all these issues,” says Dave.
Dave joined the gym for medical reasons, “so I have a purpose,” he says.
He continues, “I've got to reduce my blood glucose. The more you train, the more you have control of this problem. I'm learning to swim. It's never too late to learn, and it's good for my mental health.”
Find the right space to try something new
Alison says people who visit the centre often become involved in new activities they hadn’t expected to take up. One couple who booked a single table tennis slot ended up becoming full members and now attend dance classes regularly.
There is a growing number of leisure and sports centres across the UK that offer a wide range of activities for the over 60s, including gentler forms of some sports. For example, short tennis is played with a softer ball, while walking football and netball involve the thrill of the sport – minus running and jogging.
Some centres, such as the Rainbow Centre, provide an area in the gym specifically for those over 60 who would prefer not to be in the main part of the building. Often, however, they do go to the main gym once they’ve got used to the equipment.
“It can be quite daunting if you walk into a space full of gym equipment,” says Alison. “But I always say to people once you know where you want to go and have learnt how the piece of equipment works, no one’s really looking at you.”
This have-a-go spirit helped propel Alison’s team to victory at the recent Better Club Games, which is run by Greenwich Leisure. An annual charity-backed multi-sports event for the over-sixties, the games took place this September for the first time since Covid at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s Copper Box Arena and attracted 550 participants.
One of the short tennis teams was made up of two people who’d never played before. They came second last, but no matter.
“They were fantastic,” says Alison. “They’re continuing to play and get better.”
Keep mentally fit by widening your cultural horizons
The Better Club Games illustrate how perceptions of ageing – and of what older people can and should do – are changing. This goes well beyond sport. For example, Scottish Ballet as well as Sadler’s Wells offer ballet classes for people ages 60 and over alongside opportunities to perform.
“60 to 70-year-olds now have a much younger mentality than say 50 years ago,” says Marj.
Language learning is another area where older people often excel. Ageing has some influence on the ability of older individuals to acquire a new language, according to Natalia Balyasnikova, Assistant Professor of Adult Education at York University in Toronto. Still, language learning can be part of a healthy ageing process and studies are showing it may help stall cognitive decline. Learning a new language can also make overseas holidays and travel so much more meaningful by engaging in conversations with the local people.
Perhaps more importantly, language learning sharpens problem-solving skills, says Natalia, who is currently exploring older immigrants’ educational engagement in Canada, including learning English. “I find that it often leads to heightened confidence and more active social engagement.”
Whatever your age, there is an activity to suit you. What’s important is that you embrace new activities to build physical and social well-being and confidence. As the people in this article have found out first-hand, you never know what new amazing things you will discover about yourself until you try.
For more inspiring stories and advice on making the most of later life, try exploring the rest of Age Co’s Useful Articles.
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