"People here look after each other well."
Originally published as 'Make Your Move' in QWeekend on May 28, 2022 and reproduced here with permission. Interview by Tonya Turner; picture by David Kelly.
Retiree, 74, West End
Keeping active and busy comes naturally to Maeve Cunnington, 74. As she walks the streets of West End in Brisbane three times a week listening to podcasts, opera or country music through her headphones, she takes notice of the architecture, explores different routes and collects rubbish along the way. She also hits the gym a few times a week at Blue Care Tangara Retirement Village where she resides and rides 40-50km on her e-bike with friends once a week.
“I’m a great believer in being outdoors, moving your body and using your mind,” she says. For Maeve, finding new ways to exercise is part of staying healthy and adapting to older age.
“When I got into my 50s I was running, cycling and swimming a lot, but now I’ve got knees showing the effects of all that,” she says.
When it comes to looking after her physical, mental and emotional health, Maeve ticks all the boxes. As well as exercising, she loves gardening, volunteering with local community organisation Kurilpa Futures, attending a weekly drawing group and regularly going out with friends to dinner or the movies.
“I love my own company but I also love socialising,” she says.
Moving to Blue Care Tangara Retirement Village seven years ago has played a big part in Maeve’s positive outlook.
“Like many women, I knew my finances would be somewhat limited in retirement,” Maeve says.
“After moving around a fair bit I decided it was time to get into a place that was affordable, central, safe and secure where there were people my own age who I’d have things in common with. People here look after each other well. We leave things on each other’s doorsteps and check on one another. It’s a very special thing – you can be sure if you need something from the shop or you get ill, people will drop things into you and be in contact with you.”
A study conducted by the International Longevity Centre UK in 2017 found that living in a retirement village may increase life expectancy for women by five years and improve life expectancy for men in low socioeconomic groups. Blue Care’s general manager of retirement living, Natalie Smith, says she hears about the benefits of retirement village living every day from their residents.
“People are able to maximise their time doing things they enjoy instead of mowing the lawn. There are all sorts of activities taking place at our villages. It’s about bringing people together and you can be engaged as little or as much as you want,” she says.
Experts in healthy ageing agree that the recipe for a longer, healthier, happier life includes good nutrition, quality sleep, regular exercise, getting outdoors, mental stimulation and social connection.
Brad McGregor is the clinical and operations manager of UQ Healthy Living, which aims to support adults over 50 to take charge of their health and maintain their independence.
He says that while medical advancements have been excellent at helping to prolong life, more can be done to improve quality of life.
“Diversity across wellbeing is really important. We’re built to move and run and walk and squat, so it’s really important we move every day in order to maintain our independence. It’s also important to get outside and get some vitamin D, which we know is in sunlight and helps improve mood. It’s also vital to maintain social contact because we’re engineered to be social creatures and we need that human interaction,” Brad says.
For people aged 65 year and over, the Australian government’s physical activity guidelines recommend doing 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days. This should include strength workouts for bone health, flexibility exercises to move more easily, and balance training to prevent falls and injuries.
According to Brad, finding a range of activities to suit a person’s needs and interests is the best way to get moving.
“The best exercise is the one that’s completed. If an individual really dislikes walking but likes the rowing machine, they should do that,” he says.
For people who might have fears or concerns about starting something new or have hesitations about joining social groups, he recommends taking it slowly and reaching out for help if needed.
“People don’t have to do it alone and you don’t have to overcome these barriers independently. There are support options to help get you started,” he says.
Helping others or volunteering for a cause has double benefits – it can be a great way to meet like-minded people and help redevelop a strong sense of purpose.
“It’s a really fulfilling way of getting that sense of satisfaction and accomplishment and still contributing to society,” Brad says.
“Those types of engagements are really important to overall wellbeing and they leverage all of the intellect and life experience those people have accumulated.”
For Maeve, getting the balance right for good health and wellbeing has paid off. “I love being older,” she says.