Whether she’s cycling through town, swimming laps, or running a community garden, Tesca Vermeulen is challenging the perceptions of what it means to slow down as you age. The 79-year-old Hervey Bay resident is actively pushing back on the idea of ageing quietly, and has continued her active lifestyle well into retirement.

She’s just one of thousands of Australians who are changing what retirement means.

Over the past few decades, life expectancy has soared. Today’s 76-year-old has the same life expectancy as their parents did at 66. And these septuagenarians are determined to make the most of the extra years they’ve been given. Daily lives are packed with activities. Regular travel is a given, often well into someone’s 80s.

For Tesca, she’s just continuing to live as she always has. It’s just she refuses to conform to an outdated stereotype of a quiet life as you near 80.

DISCOVERING A DREAM RETIREMENT TOWN

Born in the Netherlands, Tesca has lived in a number of countries, and fully embraced the lifestyle of each. After first moving to Australia in 1973, she kept travelling, but eventually found her dream Queensland town in 2005. “I’ve seen a lot of the world, and I’ve chosen Hervey Bay.”

While she adores the climate, it’s the sense of connection that keeps her happy. Living in Fraser Shores retirement village, in the heart of town, Tesca said one of the main things that keeps her ‘young’ is the treasured friendships she has developed since moving in. “People here are very happy. The community is lovely - we’re all individuals but we get along.”

Tesca said most residents have the same positive outlook, and believe daily activity and socialisation is key to their life satisfaction. A great example of this is the shared community garden that Tesca coordinates. “We have 23 garden beds that everyone contributes to. It’s a great way to socialise.”

STAYING ACTIVE IS KEY TO A LONG, HAPPY LIFE

But for Tesca, gardening isn’t all about socialising. Nor is it just about smelling the roses.

“Gardening is wonderful. It helps you keep your balance, and it’s something you have to practice every day.” She said balance is critical as you age, as once you start to lose it, you can lose a lot of confidence.

A former semi-professional ballet dancer - she spent thirty years on stage - Tesca has the advantage of a lifetime of learned skills. Yet, she still works daily to maintain her fitness.

“It’s important to keep your body flexible by stretching. Walking and cycling are also good.”

She said while she believes all retirees should be as active as they can for as long as possible, it was important to choose the activities that are right for them. “Don’t aim for things that are impossible. It will be frustrating. Do things that you enjoy so you’ll keep doing it.”

WHAT THE EXPERTS RECOMMEND

She’s not alone in recommending exercise for older adults. Some estimates suggest that about half of the physical decline in people as they age could be due to a lack of activity.

But with greater awareness, more retirees are finding activities they enjoy to keep their bodies fitter for longer. The Australian Department of Health recommends retirees get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity each day. This could include walking quickly, swimming, ballroom dancing, or cycling.

But keeping healthy as you age is not just about getting the heart racing. The amount of lean muscle our bodies hold decreases with age. Weight bearing exercise can improve your muscle mass in as little as six weeks.

Importantly, weight training isn’t just about the size of your biceps. As you age, this type of exercise will help prevent loss in bone density, to help prevent osteoporosis and fractures.

Tesca said having easy access at Fraser Shores to a variety of exercise daily improves her motivation, and keeps her far younger than her years would suggest. “I’ve done 9 years of yoga and tai chi. I swim almost every day. I have a dog and I walk every day.”

REFUSING TO ‘ACT HER AGE’

For Tesca, like many of her community, there’s no one prescribed routine that keeps her happy and healthy, and ‘younger’ than the generation before her. It’s much more about embracing flexibility - and doing what you can when you can. “Life satisfaction is the most important thing. Enjoy life. Do what you want to do.”

For her, that means regular travel, knowing that someone will look after her animals and home while she’s away. She’s also a keen artist, spending a lot of time painting and participating in other forms of art. And she’s not slowing down.

When asked to give advice to others contemplating retirement and ageing, Tesca laughs.

“If you are downsizing don’t bring everything with you. You won’t have time to use it” she said, encouraging others to spend time participating in activities, rather than spending more time indoors. “I’m 79! And I’m happy. I laugh with my community every day.”

If you’re ready to make the move, Azure Blue in Brisbane’s Redcliffe offers a resort lifestyle, and a community of like-minded people. Find out more about our village.

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