Next month I'll be turning 91. For most people, when they think of those in their nineties, they envisage decrepit specimens who aren't capable of much more than sitting on armchairs whilst watching TV in a care home. While not everyone who gets to my age is blessed with good health, this stereotype of 'older people' is incredibly damaging.
Older people face all kinds of discrimination. Whether it's being talked down to and patronised, or more serious issues such as fraud and abuse. But a huge issue is that it's assumed we are in some way disabled simply because of the year in which we were born.
I've always been a passionate believer in keeping active. This belief has only increased with age. The general public and older people themselves are bombarded with negative depictions of what it means to grow older. But I'm a living example of how that isn't, and shouldn't be, the case.
I re-discovered the joy of Pilates aged 85, following a number of years spent caring for my husband Gordon when I didn't have the time to get to class. Now, I take an intermediate mat class each week (alongside women in their 30s and 40s!) and also have private lessons with my wonderful instructor Jeannie where I get to use all the equipment such as the reformer machine. Pilates keeps my joints supple, reduces any aches and pains, and helps strengthen the muscles I need to maintain an active, enjoyable life. I love how it makes me feel; strong, connected, mobile.
If people are new to my regular class, I sometimes see a look of surprise cross their face when I enter the studio. It's wonderful to demonstrate to them how age isn't a barrier to taking part in activities such as this, although I fear many older people feel intimidated or scared to get involved in new things, for fear of judgement. I've made a host of new friends through Pilates and we often go for coffee after class, which is a lovely additional benefit, but taking that first step into unknown territory is often too much for people my age.
Older people can sometimes also be their own worst enemy. There's so much focus on ailments and decline that it can become easy to wrapped up in your own health worries. But it's essential to help yourself by embracing a healthy lifestyle and mentality. Along with Pilates, I also make sure I walk every single day, even if it's just a short one. Getting out and into the fresh air is so important. It's easy to find excuses to stay at home, but once you're out and moving, it's hard not to feel better for it. I also love playing tennis and try to do so at least once a week. I'd do it more, but I'm running out of people my age to play with!
Keeping busy, keeping moving, keeping positive - I'm sure it's why I feel still feel so healthy today.
We must as a society start recognising that older people are still people, with a role to play. We must promote a more positive image of what old age means and encourage people of my generation to remain active, in whichever way they chose. For me, it's Pilates. For others, it could be running, badminton, or aerobics! The more we think of old age as a disability, as a time in our lives where we're expected to slow down, the more we are condemning older generations to a less fulfilling, less healthy later life.
For me, as I approach my 91st birthday, I have no intention of slowing down. I want to continue to be an example of what someone in their 90s can do. And it doesn't involve sitting in an armchair.