Debbie Hanlan and Jill Denise squat with medicine balls during a CrossFit workout in Langford. Now in their mid-50s

Lifetime of fitness a fountain of youth

Two West Shore retirees are being mistaken for women a lot younger than themselves.

Two West Shore retirees are being mistaken for women a lot younger than themselves.

Now both in their mid-50s, Jill Denise and Debbie Hanlan, keep their bodies strong and youthful by staying active and pumping iron.

Recently during a grueling workout, a man about 45 years old turned to Denise and said, “wait until you are as old as me. You’re body won’t work the same.” Denise, 55, laughed to herself but never corrected the man on her age.

For her entire life, she has stayed fit and enjoyed developing a healthy sheen of sweat on her skin. In her mid-20s she found passion on a soccer field. Now she is active in cross-fit, yoga, cycling, hiking and training on stairs.

But her active lifestyle comes at a cost. Denise has knee issues that she pushes past everyday.

“It’s from soccer. My knees are bone-on-bone. When I was 42 the doctor told me I have the knees of an 80 year old,” Denise said. “If you sit on the couch and do nothing your knees will still be sore, so you might as well use it.”

She broke her wrist in December and has been recovering from that as well, but she won’t slow down. “When you break something at this age (if you’re not active) you are going to get arthritis all over the place,” Denise said. “I can’t imagine sitting on a couch.”

Hanlan too said people often don’t think she is 56, let alone a grandmother.

In July, Hanlan cycled from Vancouver to Seattle on the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Her mother, father and sister have all been struck by cancer. In 1992, Hanlan was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

“It took six months to diagnose and then four months of treatment (chemotherapy and radiation),” Hanlan said. “My children were in their teens then, that was the worst part.”

Prior to her diagnosis, Hanlan had been an avid runner, but the pain in her hip from where the cancer was located was too great, and she had to stop running.Within the year, Hanlan went into remission.

Nearly every day Hanlan works out, attending CrossFit classes five days a week, cycling and taking yoga. When Olympic weightlifting, she can dead lift 115 pounds. She also does push-ups off her toes.

Hanlan retired this year, but even before she moved into retirement, Hanlan still found herself at the gym five days a week.

Both women credit their health to a lifetime of healthy living. For other people who may not be in their prime, Hanlan wants them to know, “It’s never too late to start working out.”

Fitness, wellness and rehabilitation programmer Kristy Webster for West Shore Parks and Recreation sees many seniors heading to the gym to help stay healthy.

It’s important to work on balance for fall prevention and strength training for bone density.

“It’s about setting up foundations to continue independent living,” Webster said.

Many seniors have challenges when working out that their younger counterparts don’t. For instance, aging people often cope with arthritis. “You have to find exercise that doesn’t hurt and that can be a challenge,” she said.

If someone has arthritis in their hands, Webster said lifting free weights may cause pain but lifting weights with a cable machine, “puts the point of pressure above the hands.”

In her job Webster said she sees seniors coming into the gym who are noticing they have lost flexibility or mobility and want to get it back.

For people with heart issues or on various medications such as blood thinners, Webster said instead of striving for a specific heart rate the clients are encouraged to work out at a point where they can easily say their name.

“You don’t want to be gasping for air, but you don’t want to be able to have a whole conversation either,” Webster said.

She also sees seniors who have lead healthy lifestyles for decades.

“I notice their energy level, confidence, mobility and obviously their fitness level,” Webster said. “Often they will look 10 to 15 years younger than they are.”



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