Iron age: Bodybuilder and champion rower Charles Eugster, 94, isn't the only pensioner to reap the benefits of regular exercise

Luke Blackall explores a growing trend

Dr Charles Eugster will begin defending his title at the European Strenflex championships tomorrow. The competition will see him undertake a gym-based decathlon, where he will strain every sinew to try to do more chin-ups, press-ups and a heavier bench press than his competitors.

If he had any competitors, that is. "The problem is, I'm in the 90-year-old category, and there isn't anybody else," the 94-year-old tells The Independent over the phone from Germany, in between training sessions. "The next youngest person is 85."

The Strenflex competition gives competitors points for how they achieve in each event, or percentage of bodyweight lifted, which is calibrated according to the age group the competitor is in. Eugster is hoping to be in the top 10 in the points table. "A couple of years back, I managed to get the highest number of points of any age group," he says. "But I think that was a fluke because it only happened once."

Strength is not his only talent. He also competed at the World Masters Rowing regatta in Italy this year, where he entered five races and won five gold medals. He is in training for his next target – to run in a 100m race. "I'm probably pretty lousy," he says. "But next year I'll be 95 so I'll be in a higher category!"

Eugster's story remains an exception, but comes at a time when more elderly people are being encouraged to take exercise against a backdrop of an ageing population (by 2021, it's estimated that 19 per cent will be pensioners) and the associated costs.

A study published this week by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, which looked at nearly 3,500 people over eight years, showed that those who took up four years of regular activity in later life (the average age was 64), were seven times more likely to age healthily.

"It suggests that we don't have to have a lifetime of fitness to get benefits in older age – it's something that you can pick up later on and still get the benefits," says one of the scientists on the study, Dr Mark Hamer, of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London. But he adds a note of caution: "What we do know about exercise is that the minute you stop exercising, it doesn't matter how much you've done, you do lose the benefit very quickly. So it's really a case of you've just got to keep at it!"

The next step, Dr Hamer believes, is looking at the way the public is educated about the benefits and the barriers to old people exercising. One person hoping to encourage more seniors to be physically active is Michael Cain, of Exeter, whose grand-daughters refer to him as "Sportacus Grandpa". Although, at 64, he is 30 years younger than Eugster, he, too, is not letting traditional notions of age stop his ambitions. After starting to go to the gym in his fifties, Cain has just qualified as a gym instructor, specifically to teach the Les Mills Bodypump class.

"I'm just generally alarmed at a lot of people of my generation because, one by one, they are falling prey to illnesses, or aches or pains, or physical injuries. And I strongly believe this is because they are taking very sedentary lifestyles now. And it's a downward spiral," he says, but adds that his story has inspired others. "One or two [friends] have actually said, 'We've never been to the gym before, but we're actually going to come to one of your classes'. So even among my small group, I've been quite inspirational."

Today, there are a number of sports clubs for "masters" or "veterans" out there, and gyms such as Grace Belgravia in London report that nearly a fifth of their personal training sessions are taken by the over-fifties. But those such as Dr Eugster remain pessimistic for a costly future with a growing ageing population in which obesity and diabetes are on the rise, unless the importance of fitness is realised.

"Quite simply, I just want to change the world, that's all," he says, with a laugh.

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
Highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
News
news
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cover Supervisor

    £75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam