Here for a long time and a good time

By James Fuller

A record-breaking septuagenarian weightlifter from Tauranga says he is living proof that people can adopt younger outlooks on life.

A British survey has stated middle and old age now start much later than in previous generations and the Bay's residents are underlining that research. For locals a youthful approach is not just about feeling good it's about looking good, as personal stylists report women in their 70s getting fashion makeovers.

Middle and old age now begin at 55 and 70 respectively, according to research conducted by Love to Learn, a learning website in the UK. Previous findings had put the onset of middle age as early as 36.

Fitness is the key for Felix Esterbauer. He has been weight training for 60 years and is still going strong. The 76-year-old represented New Zealand at the 2002 and 2006 Oceania Masters Weightlifting Championships and at the 2007 World Masters Championships in the Czech Republic.

Mr Esterbauer moved to New Zealand from Austria 50 years ago, where he trained in the same gym as Arnold Schwarzenegger, and is still competing in 70-plus age group competitions. He is a multi-national powerlifting champion.

"I will carry on for another 10 years at least yet," says the man who trains four times a week. Two months ago Mr Esterbauer set an unofficial age group deadlift world record of 217.5kg at the North Island powerlifting championships.

He had advice for older people who were slowing down in their lives.

"Get a good programme and go to the gym. Keep yourself fit and keep your strength up."

Lisa Chan is owner of The Gym, in Tauranga, where Mr Esterbauer trains. She says older people are now more health and fitness-conscious.

"Age is in the mind and what you choose it to be," says Mrs Chan. "I have a 74-year-old in my Body Attack class, which is my highest cardiovascular class. My oldest member is 93 and he still comes regularly. We're as busy at 9.30am, which is when the mums and seniors come in, as we are at 6.30am, which is people coming in before they go to work."

Mrs Chan says as well as being places to maintain fitness, range of movement, flexibility and basic health, gyms are seen as meeting points.

"A big reason seniors come to us is social. It's like a club environment at times," she says. "It's not just the physical benefits but the mental and emotional ones from interacting with other people."

Those in the older age brackets are also increasingly fashion-conscious, says Megan Hewett of The Style Company.

Mrs Hewett is a personal stylist who says the company's second largest client age group after those in their 40s, is the over-60s.

"We have just sold a voucher to a lady in her 70s," says Mrs Hewett, "and I'm sure we will get older than that."

The Style Company helps define a person's clothing style by advising on garments, assessing body shapes and undertaking wardrobe audits and colour consultations.

"A common theme amongst the older age group is that they want to wear age-appropriate clothing but still be stylish, fashionable and glamorous. They want advice on being fashionable but not dressing too young."

Bill Humphrey, vice-president of Grey Power's Tauranga branch, says ageing well is about having the right attitude.

"Keeping a young attitude and being open to things is very important. By staying mentally and physically active and involved through the later years, it's a recipe for longevity," says the 81-year-old who loves gardening and was a DJ until he was 58.

However, in common with the rest of New Zealand, the Bay of Plenty's age demographic is becoming increasingly top-heavy. People aged over 55 are representing ever-larger percentages of the population.

In 1991, there were 26,775 people (13.1 per cent of the population) aged 55-69, whilst 15,678 (7.7 per cent) were aged 70 and over. Two decades later, in 2011, there were 46,400 people (16.7 per cent) aged 55-69. There were 31,940 (11.5 per cent) aged 70 or more.

Those over 55 now represent 28.2 per cent of the Bay of Plenty's population.


Vice-president of Grey Power Bill Humphrey is in his 80s. He says age is about attitude and staying active. He's got plenty of one to help him keep on being the other.

The statistic has implications for the future says Nadine Ballam, who teaches Human Development at the University of Waikato's Tauranga campus.

"Are we prepared for an increasingly aged population? Things like superannuation and the younger population having to support the older one. How are we going to handle that?"

Ms Ballam says many older people are already working longer and this could be the shape of the future.

"A lot more people are working in a part-time capacity. That really suits older people. Part-time jobs, which might have been student jobs in the past, have now become strongholds of the older generation."

Ms Ballam says there has been a shift in attitude regarding the ageing process.

"Ageing is being looked at more positively than in previous generations, especially with younger people. The stereotype was when people hit 60 or 65 they were just 'old'.

"Younger people are recognising the value of older people more than before; what they can learn from them, in the workplace as well as outside.

"Life doesn't stop when you hit retirement age. There's a whole span of possibilities," she says.

"There are institutions like the University of the Third Age, which are cropping up to cater for people who have 20 to 30 years ahead of them for retirement. In a sense they can start a whole new lifestyle for themselves."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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