At the age of 80, Japanese alpinist Yuichiro Miura, became the oldest person to summit Mount Everest in May 2013. No small feat, if you think that out of about 4 000 people, only 660 succeeded to scale this 8 848m mountain. What is more, Yuichiro had reached the summit three times in his lifetime and all when he was over the age of 70!

We do not all have to start scaling mountains when we retire, nor do we have to cross the Atlantic Ocean solo in a canoe to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research like another 70-year old – Frank Roghwell – is currently doing. Still, it is never too old to get into shape and start living a healthy life.

“Why not start by joining a gymnasium,” says Maties Gymnasium Operations Manager Carl Wagner. “We have special membership fees for pensioners to encourage our senior citizens to make exercise an integral part of their daily routines.”

According to Carl, Maties Gym is where old and young can train under the same roof and join each other in becoming healthy citizens. “We have members even older than 80 years and as young as 12 years – all pursuing their own fitness goals while enjoying our fantastic facilities.” Pensioners receive a 30% discount on membership fees at Maties Gymnasium.

Someone who believes that one is never too old to take on new challenges is Maties Gym member Leatitia Viljoen, who, at the age of 60 started mountain biking and, together with her son, she even tackled the Cape Town cycle tour. Leatitia (now 70) is a regular at Maties Gym, and trains almost every day of the week – some days she will even visit her favourite gym twice a day.

“I train to keep my body fit and healthy and clear my head. It is so uplifting for your general well-being, and it keeps you going strong,” says Leatitia who receives an annual membership every year as a birthday present from her husband, Kobus. Her favourite exercise is aqua aerobics, and she combines that with express exercise classes and weight training – something she believes is essential for older people to build a strong body.

Another regular face at Maties Gym, is Hannelie Groenewald, of the gym’s instructors. At the age of 65, you will see Hannelie giving between three to four classes daily – from Pilates, body conditioning to step and callanetics classes. She usually ends her day walking with friends on the Stellenbosch mountain. “Luckily, I am not married, so I have a lot of time to exercise.”

“I will train until I stand with one foot in the grave,” says Hannelie, who regards training as a way of life. “We do not all have the same abilities; therefore, it is important to listen to your body. As long as you do something and stay active.”

A way of life

Getting active should become a regular habit and a way of life, says the South African Heart and Stroke Foundation. “Being active is one of the most valuable things you can do to help maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease. Any activity that gets you slightly out of breath and the heart pumping faster counts. Try brisk walking, cycling, gym classes, soccer, swimming, dancing, gardening or playing an active game with the kids,” advises the foundation.

According to a recent study of the World Health Organisation, 40% of South Africans are physically inactive. The Heart and Stroke Foundation warns that the price of physical activity is staggering:

“It increases the chance of developing diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancers, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. It is linked with depression, anxiety, stress and poor ageing. Inactive people double their risk of suffering a heart attack and have a higher risk of dying immediately after such an attack.” (source:

The long and the short of it is doing some physical activity is better than nothing at all. Being active and fit can not only keep us healthy, but it can also help us fight off infection and help build a healthy immune system and boost our mental health so to keep our minds clear and focused.

Exercise in COVID times

Both Leatitia and Hannelie found their unique ways to keep fit during the COVID-19 lockdown period – even if it meant buying a pair of weights and use the lounge as a make-shift gymnasium. When the gym reopened, they joined again and since then continued in their regular fitness routines. “It is amazing how clean the gym is and how much trouble the staff take to ensure everything is cleaned and sanitise between classes and sessions. It is much safer to go to the gym than to go to the local supermarket,” says Hannelie.

“The COVID pandemic is causing a lot of people to stay home and sitting down more than we usually do. But at a time like this, it is even more important for people of all ages and activities to be as active as possible”, says Carl. “We urge our members to come and enjoy our gym knowing that we do our utmost best to clean and sanitise Maties Gym regularly.”