What you might not expect to see next time you’re in the gym, is an 87-year-old woman doing pull-ups.
But that’s exactly what gym-loving Bimla Devi does on her regular visits to her local fitness centre.
Between strength training, playing squash and keeping fit with her family at home, the grandmother to 15, absolutely adores being active, and won’t let lockdown slow her down.
‘I first started going to the gym 30 years ago,’ Bimla tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I didn’t even know what a gym was until my son introduced me to it.
‘I was a bit nervous at first as I was the oldest, probably the most unfit person and, of course, the only Indian woman. But I kept going and I have never looked back.’
Bimla is originally from the Punjab in India, but now she lives in Leamington Spa. At her peak, Bimla was going to the gym every day, however now she aims to go three-five times per week. Which is still more than most people half her age.
‘I have arthritis, so exercising helps keep my body moving and active. I also love the social aspect too, I have made lovely friends at the gym and we exercise together to make it more enjoyable.
‘I took up squash at the age of 83, my amazing friend Alison taught me. It’s a fun and active hobby, I love it.
‘I am probably the oldest member at the gym, and secretly I love the fuss they make over me!’
Fitness was everything to Bimla when she sadly lost her husband. It gave her something to focus on, something to keep her going.
‘I was so desperately sad and lost, even when I had the whole family around me,’ Bimla explains. ‘I needed to vent my pain and emptiness, that’s when my son introduced me to his gym.
‘The gym was initially a distraction for my pain, but with regular attendance, I became addicted to it.
‘I prioritised myself, my health, my fitness. The gym gave me hope, goals and fun. It is now my number one hobby.’
At 87, Bimla falls into the ‘vulnerable’ category for coronavirus risk. She has to self-isolate at home, and of course, the gym is off-limits until the danger from the pandemic has passed.
But Bimla knows just how important it is to stay active and keep moving, even if she can’t stick to her normal routine.
Thanks to FaceTime, Bimla can now connect with all of her grandkids, and she is getting her fitness fix playing with a ball in the garden and practicing her squash technique with her racket.
‘Being active is so important, it makes me happy,’ says Bimla. ‘Being mobile for a bit is better than not moving at all.
‘Going to the gym helps with my mental well-being and being independent to do simple jobs for myself. Exercising has improved my general quality of life and has given me the energy boost I need.’
Although Bimla loves working out and playing sport, she admits that it isn’t always easy. But she knows the rewards far outweigh a little bit of tiredness and hard work.
Gym-loving grandma of 15 is determined to stay fit during lockdown
‘Please don’t think I don’t feel tired afterwards, I do,’ she says, ‘but it gives me a sense of purpose, fulfillment and a strong zest for life.
‘I am a grandmother as well as a great-grandmother, so I need all the energy and strength to enjoy my lovely family.
‘I cannot see my life without exercise, it is completely unthinkable.’
Bimla says that before she moved to the UK from India in the 1950s, she didn’t realise that not exercising and eating a ghee-laden diet could have a serious impact on her health.
‘Five children later, seriously obese, I realised I had to change my lifestyle to stay fit and active to keep up with them,’ she explains.
‘Everyone has good and bad days, but it’s how you chose to overcome those bad days.
‘You can either let the bad days bring you down and you stop exercising altogether, or you can let the bad day go and return to exercising soon after – better, stronger and motivated.’
She says the key is not to let one bad day run into multiple bad days. She says that can make it much harder to get back to exercising.
‘Just keep moving – no matter how simple, even just sitting on a chair to move your arms, legs and head,’ she says.
‘There are times at the gym when I don’t feel like exercising and just want a coffee with my friends. That’s OK, as long as I come back the next day and don’t give up.’
Bimla says that there is no question that maintaining your fitness does get harder as you get older, but she says that isn’t an excuse to stop. If anything, it should be a motivation to keep going.
‘I am so determined that I will not be defined by my age,’ says Bimla.
‘It’s too easy to say: “I’m too old to exercise.” No! You are never too old to exercise. Age is only a number. In fact, as you get older, it becomes even more important to remain mobile.’
She says it’s all about listening to your body, learning what you can and can’t to, and adapting to your changing capabilities.
‘I know my limits and boundaries and I’m happy with what I can achieve,’ she says. ‘As long as I am safe, happy and healthy, I can continue, God-willing, with my exercises well into my 90s.’
Bimla believes in the strength of all women, regardless of how old they are.
‘Every woman is a “strong woman”, whether you are 16 or 100 years plus,’ she says.
‘Every woman has strength within her to do brilliantly – but it is your mental positive attitude, focus and determination that will help you enjoy life to its full potential.
‘I don’t have educational school certificates. In my days in the Punjab, girls left school at puberty with the aim of getting married to fulfill their parents’ wishes. But I can proudly say I have a PhD in life.
‘I can pass life experiences to the generations behind me – now that is priceless. I have gone through many a challenge in my life which I hope the new generations never have to experience. I can pass my wisdom for them to learn, grow, be strong and fearless.’
Bimla’s inspiration is her own mum, the strongest woman she has ever known.
‘She was amazing,’ Bimla says. ‘She had 10 children. She had no option but to be fit and active.
‘A strong woman is a healthy and powerful woman that makes a positive difference who helps and inspires others.
‘A strong woman is a determined woman ready for a challenge and unafraid of failure. She is a woman who doesn’t give up, who will try harder tomorrow and she keeps going.’
We have no doubt that Bimla will keep going with her fitness throughout lockdown and beyond.