• Sweden's news in English

Swedish seniors stay active through exercise

AFP/The Local · 14 Dec 2011, 16:36

Published: 14 Dec 2011 16:36 GMT+01:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The disco beat of 'Stayin' Alive' pulses through the room as Lennart Zetterqvist heaves dumbbells out to his side, zipping through the paces of a workout class with a twist: it's for seniors aged 90 and up.

Zetterqvist, the baby of the group at 90, is part of a growing group of pensioners in Sweden who are determined to stay in shape and remain active as they age.

"In the past people wanted to take life easy when they retired. Now they want to be active and keep fit until they're 100," says Kristoffer Sjöberg, a personal trainer who leads the group of old-timers through their weekly class at the Sickla Hälsocenter health club on the outskirts of Stockholm.

Anne-Marie Novotny, a spry and vivacious 91-year-old in a pink t-shirt, overdoes it a touch on the abdominal exercises.

"I just had a liver operation so I'm going to take it easy for the next few minutes," she says, adding that until last spring she hadn't exercised since she finished school in 1938.

She was one of 16 pensioners over the age of 90 who accepted the local municipality's offer of a free weekly gym class.

The idea is that keeping older people fit means they can continue to live independent lives -- and stay out of hospitals and elderly care homes, which in Sweden's cradle-to-grave welfare state are funded by municipalities.

"We focus a lot on strength and balance, and we've seen a big improvement since we started this class in March. Back then most of the people came with canes or walkers, now almost none of them do," Sjöberg says.

"I sometimes forget to take my cane with me nowadays!" exclaims Alice Wettergren, 92.

While this group is exceptional -- it's the only one for the 90-plus crowd in Sweden -- it illustrates a growing trend as Sweden, like the rest of Europe, grapples with an ageing population.

According to the Seniorbarometern study published in September, there are 1.8 million pensioners out of Sweden's population of nine million, and the group is expected to grow by another 850,000 by 2015.

UN projections forecast that seniors will account for 25 percent of the population by 2050.

"These are no couch potatoes, they're much more active than the average Swede," the head of the study, Linus Blom, told AFP.

Among those aged 59 and up, 38 percent say they do some form of exercise every day. One in six say they are considering buying a membership at a gym.

And since 2000, the number of people over the age of 65 who have completed the Stockholm Marathon has increased four-fold.

"This is just a mirror of today's society: older people are living healthier, longer lives and they want to stay active much longer," Stockholm Marathon organiser Thomas Enström told AFP.

As far as runners go, few can beat Herbert Liedtke.

It took three strokes in the past year to get the now 95-year-old to give up sprinting in international masters competitions.

After driving a taxi for 40 years and never exercising, Liedtke took up running at the age of 69 on a whim when he tagged along with colleagues 15 years his junior to their regular track workout.

"I had never run a day and I out-ran all of them," he recalls with a proud grin, standing ramrod straight in sweat pants and runners in the kitchen of his retirement home where his cluster of medals hangs in the doorway.

At 85, in 2001, he set a new world record for 400-metres in his age category in Australia. (And as at every other competition, he insisted on doing a headstand on the winners' podium.)

Blom noted that those now entering retirement are the post-war "baby boomers", many of whom have stronger finances than previous retirees and who are expected to make up a key market for gyms and health clubs.

Bodil Hedenström is a case in point.

At 71, she attends workout classes three to four times a week at the upscale Sturebadet health club in central Stockholm.

Story continues below…

"I need this! I can't go without it," says the tall, slender blonde, adding she and her husband often take cycling or hiking holidays.

"I feel more limber, my balance is better and I notice my stamina is better," she explains.

Göran Murvall, the doctor who came up with the idea for the 90+ workout group, says keeping seniors thinking positively is as important as the exercise.

He wanted to get them "dreaming about next year's hiking trip, or holidayin the Alps, or 'how I'm going to climb down into the sailboat one more summer'."

"The elderly need to believe in the future and set new goals," he says, adding: "Physical activity, especially for seniors, is the best and cheapest medicine there is."

Personal trainer Sjöberg cautions that today's younger generations are going to need to think about exercising even more than today's senior citizens.

"This generation of seniors was much more active for many years," he says.

They walked and cycled more every day, and as pastimes on weekends picked

mushrooms or berries in the woods or skied in the forests.

"Now, the younger generations sit still so much in front of the computerand television and they drive everywhere. So they need to exercise so that they can live to be 90 and have a good life when they are 90," he says.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

17:39 December 14, 2011 by spo10
So true. I see a lot of them grandmas and grandpas taking walks around the city rain or shine.
Today's headlines
Hundreds protest Swedish asylum laws
Around 1,000 people protested in Stockholm. Photo: Fredrik Persson/ TT

Hundreds of people on Saturday demonstrated in Stockholm and in many other parts of the country to protest Sweden’s tough new laws on asylum-seekers.

Dylan removes Nobel-mention from website
The American musician has more or less responded to the news with silence. Photo: Per Wahlberg

American singer-song writer Bob Dylan has removed any mention of him being named one of this year’s Nobel Prize laureates on his official website.

Refugee crisis
Asylum requests in Sweden down by 70 percent
Sweden's migration minister Morgan Johansson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Sweden received 70 percent fewer requests for asylum in the period between January and September 2016 than it did during the same time last year, the country’s justice and migration minister Morgan Johansson has revealed.

The unique story of Stockholm's floating libraries
The Stockholm archipelago book boat. Photo: Roger Hill.

Writer Roger Hill details his journeys on the boats that carry books over Stockholm's waterways and to its most remote places.

Refugee crisis
Second Stockholm asylum centre fire in a week
The new incident follows a similar fire in Fagersjö last week (pictured). Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Police suspect arson in the blaze, as well as a similar incident which occurred last Sunday.

More misery for Ericsson as losses pile up
Ericsson interim CEO Jan Frykhammar presenting its third quarter results. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT

The bad news just keeps coming from the Swedish telecoms giant.

Facebook 'sorry' for removing Swedish cancer video
A computer displaying Facebook's landing page. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

The social media giant had censored a video explaining how women should check for suspicious lumps in their breasts.

Watch this amazing footage of Sweden’s landscapes
A still from the aerial footage of Sweden. Photo: Nate Summer-Cook

The spectacular drone footage captures both Sweden's south and the opposite extreme, thousands of kilometres north.

Sweden could be allowed to keep border controls: EU
Police ID checks at Hyllie station in southern Sweden. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson/TT

Sweden could be allowed to keep ID controls on its border with Denmark beyond the current end date of November, following discussions among EU leaders in Brussels last night.

Why women in Sweden will work for free by November
File photo of a woman working in a Swedish office. Photo: Anders Willund/TT

A new study into the gender pay gap suggests Sweden still has some work to do.

Sponsored Article
This is Malmö: Football capital of Sweden
Fury at plans that 'threaten the IB's survival' in Sweden
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
Here's where it could snow in central Sweden this weekend
Analysis & Opinion
Are we just going to let half the country die?
Blog updates

6 October

10 useful hjälpverb (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I think the so-called “hjalpverb” (auxiliary verbs in English) are a good way to get…" READ »


8 July

Editor’s blog, July 8th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hej readers, It has, as always, been a bizarre, serious and hilarious week in Sweden. You…" READ »

Sponsored Article
7 reasons you should join Sweden's 'a-kassa'
Angry elk chases Swede up a lamp post
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
The Local Voices
'Alienation in Sweden feels better: I find myself a stranger among scores of aliens'
People-watching: October 20th
The Local Voices
A layover at Qatar airport brought this Swedish-Kenyan couple together - now they're heading for marriage
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Swede punches clown that scared his grandmother
Sponsored Article
Swedish for programmers: 'It changed my life'
Fans throw flares and enter pitch in Swedish football riot
Could Swedish blood test solve 'Making a Murderer'?
Sponsored Article
Top 7 tips to help you learn Swedish
Property of the week: Linnéstaden, Gothenburg
Sponsored Article
How to vote absentee from abroad in the US elections
Swedish school to build gender neutral changing room
People-watching: October 14th-16th
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
Man in Sweden assaulted by clowns with broken bottle
Sponsored Article
‘Extremism can't be defeated on the battlefield alone’
Nobel Prize 2016: Literature
Sponsored Article
Stockholm: creating solutions to global challenges
Watch the man who discovered Bob Dylan react to his Nobel Prize win
Sponsored Article
Why you should 'grab a chair' on Stockholm's tech scene
Record numbers emigrating from Sweden
Sponsored Article
'There was no future for me in Turkey'
People-watching: October 12th
Sponsored Article
Where is the Swedish music industry heading?
The Local Voices
'Swedish startups should embrace newcomers' talents - there's nothing to fear'
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How far right are the Sweden Democrats?
Property of the week: Triangeln, Malmö
Sweden unveils Europe's first elk hut
People-watching: October 7th-9th
The Local Voices
Syria's White Helmets: The Nobel Peace Prize would have meant a lot, but pulling a child from rubble is the greatest reward
Missing rune stone turns up in Sweden
Nobel Prize 2016: Chemistry
jobs available