It is a sad fact that as we age, we grow stiffer in the joints, flabbier in the muscles and thicker around the waist. Keeping fit gets harder over 50 — or does it?
Captain Jean-Marc de Montrichard and Kimberley Dittrich would beg to differ. Jean-Marc, a pilot, trainer and examiner for Etihad, was in his late 40s when he became an instructor for Body Combat, Body Pump and RPM and 50 when he opened Rev Studio, his own boutique indoor cycling studio on Reem Island, Abu Dhabi. At 52, he is proud to call himself the oldest fitness instructor in the UAE.
Kimberley Dittrich, a Canadian, has lived in the Gulf region for more than 30 years, first in Saudi Arabia and then Abu Dhabi. Two years ago, when she was 59, she took up triathlon, which involves running, cycling and swimming. Now 61, she competes in triathlons all over the world.
For anyone older who feels they have left it too late to get fit, it would be hard to find two more inspiring role models.
How did your fitness journey begin?
Jean-Marc: “I’ve played sports since childhood. I was always picked for school sports teams and then at university, I got serious about squash and ended up representing my country, Trinidad and Tobago. I wanted to turn professional in my 30s but playing squash had really taken a toll on my body. I had to have two operations on my spine and now I’ve got titanium rods in there. I couldn’t play squash any more, but I missed that rush of competitive fitness and that’s when I started doing indoor cycling.”
Kimberley: “I was a figure skater from the age of four and made the Canadian national team. I turned pro at 25 but gave it up when I married and moved to the Middle East.”
How can older people get motivated?
Kimberley: “You don’t have to do triathlons to get fit. Walk a few kilometers, get a dog so that you have to go out – it’s all good exercise for any age. Indoor cycling is great for the over-50s because it’s low-impact. Stretching and yoga are really good but take it slowly. Find a community you enjoy working out with; it will get you off the couch because you won’t want to let them down. Working out with younger people is inspiring but don’t worry about competing with them. Just compete with yourself and don’t over-tax your body.”
Jean-Marc: “It’s hard here for the over-50s because there really isn’t a community for that age group. My studio is set up to appeal to older exercisers. I don’t hear people using age as an excuse not to be active but I do hear things like, ‘Oh I can’t do much because I have bad knees.’ When it comes to competition, older people have a better mindset. We have monthly competitions at my studio and the last three have been won by people over 50. People my age are better at dealing with pain and frustration. The young ones give up too easily – they have less grit.”
How does your current fitness measure up to the past?
Jean-Marc: “I’ve been doing more since my late 40s than at any other time in my life. I’m not trying to prove anything to myself or to anyone else – I just enjoy what I’m doing. I still haven’t reached my full potential as an athlete yet.”
Kimberley: “I’ll admit that sometimes I feel exhausted. I sleep less and the goggles I wear for swimming leave permanent marks around my eyes so people always think I look tired. But I am mentally stronger now. I have more confidence than I did when I was younger. There will always be things that go wrong but maturity gives you the mental strength and perseverance to handle it better. And there’s less pressure, anyway, when you’re older. I have a sticker on my triathlon bike that says ‘Some day I won’t be able to do this, but today is not that day.’”
Any guiding principles for over-50s?
Jean-Marc: “Don’t even think of your age when you’re exercising. Don’t ever let a number define your identity. Only think about what you can do. Ask yourself if you still breathe the way you used to. Do you have an illness? How’s your state of mind? The only time I feel old is when I’m injured. You might have to change your activities as you get older but you can still be active.”
Kimberley: “In any given week, there are hundreds of activities going on in the UAE. Find one that appeals to you and that you enjoy because then you’ll stick with it. It doesn’t matter what it is – the most important thing is to get moving.
A word or phrase to kick-start the motivation?
Jean-Marc: “You’ve found the key — now turn the ignition!
Kimberley: “I’m 61 years of age and I get to do this. Whatever age you are, remind yourself that you get to do this — whatever your ‘this’ is. And get going!
- Captain Jean-Marc de Montrichard and Kimberley Dittrich spoke as part of the Fitness Over 50 panel discussion at the first Livehealthy Festival, January 24-25, 2020 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi.
Zach Holz is an American English teacher living and working in Dubai. He writes about financial freedom and other happy things at his blog The Happiest Teacher.