Tuesday 24 April 2018

'I feel amazing' - inspiring Irish granny (70s) who works out five days a week

Older women have taken to cardio with gusto, but give less weight to resistance training. Here, Mona Sheridan tells our reporter how weights have lifted her whole life

Mona Sheridan from Rathfarnham. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mona Sheridan from Rathfarnham. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Mona loves her morning weight-lifting routine

Kathy Donaghy

The saying 'You're as young as you feel' seems tailor-made for Mona Sheridan. Now in her 70s, she lives by this mantra and says society's attitudes to ageing should be ignored by older people and they should simply enjoy their lives, doing the things they love.

Enjoying life is something Mona does with gusto. Having reared her family of three grown-up daughters and a son, and with three grandchildren, she says this is her own time now and she's enjoying every minute.

Five days a week, Mona works out doing a weight-training programme at a Dublin gym. She follows this by walking for a couple of hours in the countryside with her cockapoo, Louis. She has a healthy diet, eats what she wants in moderation and enjoys a great social life. It's something she feels all older people should aspire to but says she doesn't know any different, as it's just the way she lives her life.

Far from being concerned with youth or ageing, Mona has a simple philosophy to the issue: "Have the birthday cake and celebrate - just don't count the candles."

In 2013, the National Positive Ageing Strategy set out the blueprint for planning for an older population. At its core, this national plan seeks to create a shift in mindset in how we, collectively and individually, conceptualise ageing and what needs to be done to promote positive ageing.

Strategy planners would have done well to have spoken to Mona Sheridan about changing this mindset. Her take on it is that older people need to change how they see themselves and their expectations first and foremost.

Having worked all her life - mainly in the hotel industry, with over 20 happy years spent front of house at Dublin's famous Burlington Hotel - Mona says she was always active. Being a busy working mother meant she rarely had time to sit down. But she would never have put herself in a "very fit" category.

It was a hip replacement operation 20 years ago that made Mona resolve to get fitter and stronger. "When I had the hip done, people would have said, 'You're not going to do much now.' I tried swimming but I really didn't like the water. I started going to the gym but I was just doing the same thing over and over," she says.

At that time, she met personal trainer Damien Maher, who was working in the gym Mona was attending. When he put Mona on a weights programme, she liked the results and followed him when he set up his gym Be Fit For Life in Sandyford.

Five days a week, Mona can be found here. She makes her way to the gym for 10.30am every day and does a weights programme, alternating her routine daily between exercises for the upper body and lower body.

Mona thinks that it's a mistake for women to avoid weights because they have a fear they will bulk up. "In fact, they keep you lean. I feel amazingly good. Whatever programme I get, I'll meet it and I'll do it," she says.

Mona says she's an early riser, doing her household chores early in the morning before hitting the gym. However, she says it's not all about hard work - she has made a bunch of great friends through working out. She says they're all younger and she credits this with keeping her own mental attitude young as well.

In relation to her training, Mona says she has adopted some of her trainer's language and says simply, "Age is not my cage. I don't think of the numbers - I just keep doing what I'm doing," she says.

After a good gym session incorporating lots of stretching for suppleness, she will bring her three-year-old dog, Louis, for a leisurely walk. Mona says she wouldn't describe it as anything like a power walk. "It's a walk in the woods. I look at the squirrels and I might see a deer or a rabbit. It's wonderful," she says.

"Sometimes I listen to the radio, talk shows or Joe Duffy. When The Ray d'Arcy Show comes on around 4pm, I know it's time to go home," says Mona.

As well as being physically active, Mona takes care about what she eats but says she doesn't deprive herself of anything. Breakfast is typically two scrambled eggs, an avocado with a slice of chicken, or poached eggs with avocado.

This protein-packed breakfast keeps her full till lunch, which is usually a hearty chicken soup. Mona says she makes a big batch of soup that will last her nearly the week and means she always has a healthy lunch ready to heat up when she comes in.

"Dinner might be lamb chops with potatoes and vegetables. I always have a glass of white wine, although I only have the one glass. I don't want to feel the effects of it the next morning, as I enjoy what I do too much. If I was out for the evening, I might have two glasses, but I will leave it at that - it doesn't matter what anyone else is having," she says.

"I might have some chocolate during the day. I keep some in the glove compartment of the car and sometimes I have some when I come out of the gym.

"I'll often have a cup of tea and maybe a biscuit to keep me going until dinner. But I don't eat after dinner, as I just don't feel hungry. I'll watch the soaps for a while and I'm usually in bed by 10pm.

"It's a case of everything in moderation. I never feel tired and I have lots of energy for everything I do," she says.

Mona's weekends are usually spent catching up with family and her grandchildren and going out with her husband, Kevin, a semi-retired builder.

"For your own health and vitality, I think it's important to ignore the years - and that's the way I live," says Mona.

However, she says at times she gets fed up with society's prescriptive and stereotypical attitudes to ageing.

"People say you shouldn't wear that at your age or you shouldn't be doing that. It's as if we go around with a number stuck to our backs.

"I feel the way I've always felt. I don't feel in my mind I can't do things and I never say, 'I can't wear that.' I remember the '70s and the stuff we wore and the things we did, and there was great freedom," she says.

For other women of her generation who may not feel as positive about life as she does, Mona says it's very important to make the time for yourself.

"You have to spend time on yourself; you owe it to yourself to do it. It's about keeping that joie de vivre - and you have to work on keeping that attitude."

Mona says another life lesson she has learned is simply to avoid the people who bring you down. "People can be horrible and can say horrible things.

"You don't have to get angry: just let karma come around and move on. I don't take any negative stuff on board. I don't gossip about anyone.

"If people want to talk, let them talk. Just don't join in. Sometimes you can let it get to you, but I say you just have to get them out.

"If you focus on the negative, it will bring you down. We all have problems. You go through life and you lose people and we all have things that are very hard to deal with. There are things in life that will bring you down - but you can change your environment," she says.

She accepts that for some people, going to a gym will never be an option, but she says people should never say never and should be open to giving it a try.

"Give them a ring or go and meet someone at your local gym. You just have to talk to them.

"The main thing is to get out of the house. Don't just sit at home. Put on your walking clothes and if you haven't got one, get a dog - the dog has to be walked. Just make that time for yourself."

● This article is part of a series of profiles of people who are redefining later life. If you know someone who may fit the bill, email yhogan@independent.ie

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