It is true that regular exercise helps people age slowly and lead healthier and more vigorous life. It is also scientifically proven that people who exercise have a greater chance of living longer than those who don’t. It was an assignment that a group of women in Kigali understood well when they set out to defy age and its effects through fitness. When Eva Gara set out to establish Grandma's Club, her aim was to get senior women out of their houses and into the gym. As we age, people tend to become more grounded, staying at home more and becoming less active--the older we get, the worse it becomes. Gara, 62, a mother of three and grandmother of four, felt that women become more isolated in their homes and bedrooms as they grow older, feeling lonely and not having many people in their age group to talk to. Building on her passion for fitness and exercising, her plan was to bring older women together to create their own group where they can plan and do things together in their own space. When you walk into The Health Hub on a Tuesday or Thursday, you notice that the Gikondo-based spa is reserved for the senior women who come in and maximise the facilities. Today, they are focusing on fitness and exercising but they also use the opportunity to socialise and interact, which is also therapeutic. As children grow and get married, elders tend to remain alone at home. Gara’s idea was to ensure that senior women don’t stay home and sink into isolation. Since she started the club one year ago, many women have joined. “We started when we were eight members and now we are over 40 members,” Gara says, adding that though not all of them are active in sports for different reasons, the number keeps growing. The active members, however, meet every Tuesday and Thursday to work out and interact, during which the hub’s facilities, including the gym and sauna, are reserved for them, to give them the privacy they need. Gara says that is very important because senior people have their special needs and training regime, depending on their abilities, and the privacy they are given by the hub has been one of the motivations. Beyond just working out, they talk about life, share testimonies, and beauty tips and build personal relationships that help them to remain active and less isolated. Suzana Cyurinyana, 73, a resident of Kibagabaga, and a grandmother of 11, joined the club randomly after taking a child to the hub for physiotherapy. “We had a child who had an accident and I would escort him to the Hub for physiotherapy. I also had issues with my legs. I was advised to join a group of grandmas to form a club to do exercise. We started when we were five of us, then seven and the number kept growing. It wasn’t easy from the start but we persisted. “We feel good after exercising and sweating. Though I still have some pain in my legs, I can say I have healed. I am better than when I started. It’s been a year now. My body used to be so exhausted. I don’t know whether it is age or something,” Cyurinyana says. When she started exercising, her life changed for the better. Though they normally work out on Tuesday and Thursday, she only does one day in a week, Tuesday, and that has been enough to make a huge difference. “I feel very good. I feel light. I can carry my weight. Before I could not climb two stairs. I breathe well. The body aches stopped. I feel good inside. When I skip a week without working out, my body tells me,” Cyurinyana says. “I am not heavy at all like I was before. My body is firm and stable. Away from physical exercise, there is also the social aspect of it. You meet new people and share experiences and support each other. “The main objective actually was to get grandmothers out of the house because there is a tendency that as one gets older, they feel like there is not much they can contribute to society, or even to themselves.” Gara rejected the idea of senior women retreating back to their living rooms and bedrooms, from which they become redundant and inactive, and before they know it, non-communicable diseases set in. “It used to bother me because I know I’m 62 this month. So, I know that I can still have a lot of fun. I used to feel sad when I would find someone who was five years younger than me saying ‘Oh, I'm too old, there’s nothing I can do,” Gara says. The idea of feeling too old to do something about one’s health or life did not sit well with Gara, she started mobilising her friends. The majority of the women still work either as consultants or businesswomen. There is a lot to live for, after all. The members are aged between 55 and 87 but the majority are aged between 60 and 70. Being of the same age, pace, and energy, it becomes easier to work together as a group. “I needed people with whom we can do things together, and we do love being together. We laugh as we exercise, we laugh at each other, and we encourage each other,” Gara says, adding that the club has become therapeutic in many ways. Definitely, with age comes some challenges, especially when the body resists, but they keep encouraging each other and lifting each other up. The distance from their homes to the hub becomes a challenge too because they are in different parts of the city, but through determination, they keep pushing, for example, carpooling to minimise costs. Before they start exercising, they take precautions like measuring blood pressure, and they also work with a trainer to make sure that they do the right exercises. Judith Nyirarukundo, 67, a grandmother of seven, and one of the members of the Grandma’s Club, says she was encouraged by her grandchildren to do sports. She went to the Health Hub to start kinesitherapy and physiotherapy because she had bad knees, a problem she has been dealing with for more than 10 years as well as back problems. “I came here to start the sessions. I started at a very slow pace. I could not walk. Gabby (Gabriella Nandi, the founder of The Health Hub), used to come home to work on me. “Then I started coming here, started by moving on the steps, I graduated to light exercises and then I started getting in better shape. Today I can move my body, do different types of sports,” Nyirarukundo says, adding that she has never felt better. Joining the Grandma’s Club also saved her from boredom, with all the children grown up and grandchildren going to school. She has people to talk to and socialise with. They are also looking to do other recreational activities, such as vacations, adventure trips, and more. Gara also believes that older people can have ideas that are fun and thrilling just like younger people, but it is just a mind-set that people have that the older one gets, the more they retreat, rather than live life. Some of the members of the Grandma’s Club are women who have worked for many years, and are financially stable but have never had a vacation or fun trip. The idea is to make sure that they live that dream before they get even older. Gara encourages more women to join and discover their hidden side, which gets even more suppressed as people get older. Since they started, some of the women have confessed that their lives changed for the better, they got fitter and their social lives improved tremendously. Etienne Hitayezu, a trainer with The Health Hub, who started with the group, says at first, they identified the type of exercises the women needed, stretching to get the bodies ready as well as weights and aerobics. “We realised that they were bored and we introduced music and dance, we combined it with different types of workouts and stretching and it worked. We started to see results. “Some of them wanted to do away with excess weight, others had different issues like back and knee pain. We came up with customised exercises suiting their needs, starting with light exercises and weights,” Hitayezu says. Today, the majority of the senior ladies have picked up on all exercises, including weights. As a trainer and instructor, Hitayezu says that what they do is aimed at delivering results and it is done with the advice of physiotherapists. He is proud of the results they have achieved. “Mostly, what we do here is physiotherapy and kinesitherapy. So, people come for those services and then they join the club. The majority come using crutches with different health complications,” Hitayezu says. He points out that they start at the lowest pace, depending on their condition and they keep graduating to the next step as they improve, and that is what makes him proud. “When you start with someone who couldn’t walk on their own, and then you see them drop the crutches and jump on two steps, 20 times non-stop, you definitely appreciate the improvement,” Hitayezu says.