Australian fitness industry icon, OH! Magazine author and fitness professional, Laraine Dunn, shares with us the key to ageing gracefully.
“I feel that I am really blessed to be able to play and have fun.”
“That’s how I make a lot of my decisions,” explains Novocastrian Laraine Dunn, “By getting out of my comfort zone.” She’s explaining the finer details of how ageing with a positive attitude is something she considers the key to living a healthy and happy life – and she’s living proof that it works.
Sounding far younger than her 68 years, Laraine’s enthusiasm for life is contagious. Still teaching group fitness classes for seniors and sharing her positive outlook on ageing, Laraine is a big believer in encouraging individuals to get out of their comfort zone.
In 2005 she was the recipient of Australian Fitness Network’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ for her achievements as a national and international presenter, educator, author and group exercise instructor. Best known for her expertise and originality in aquatic exercise education and healthy ageing, her joie de vivre has inspired many to get out of their chair and embrace growing old with a healthy and positive attitude.
Married for 37 years to her late husband, Gary, Laraine says that they both tried to live for the moment and enjoy life as much as they could. Valuing the body and taking risks are her ‘big’ philosophies and probably the invisible hands that drive her to do the things she does. “I believe in taking at least 10 risks a year,” she says. Actions can be as simple as doing something new, striking up conversations with new friends, learning a new skill or just getting out of your comfort zone. “It’s this risk taking that has taken me to the edge lots of times,” she says, which is evident from her own adventures.
It’s hard to keep up with Laraine as she rattles off the exciting adventures she’s undertaken, which is more than most people half her age. She lists jumping out of a plane over Namibia’s Skeleton Coast as the scariest. “It was a tiny little plane in a third world country and the guys who ran it looked like they had just stepped out of a bar,” she recalls. “It was amazing – all you could see was desert. Jumping out was great but what was more outstanding was the 360s the plane was doing – after the third one I had to ask them to stop!”
Approaching each adrenalin fuelled escapade with a ‘no fear’ attitude keeps Laraine calm and stops her from backing out (not that that is an option), whether it is hiking Mt Kilimanjaro, swimming with whale sharks on Ningaloo Reef, trekking New Zealand’s less-travelled trails or white water rafting down a crocodile-infested Nile river.
“I don’t offer that option of having a rest because they are going to have it if they want to.”
Inspired by adventurers like polar pioneer Sir Ernest Shackleton, Laraine says that we as modern day explorers have it easy with all the technology and gadgets available to us. Although she sees herself as a traveller, she admits we have everything we need to make our adventure comfortable compared to early explorers who didn’t have much at all.
What Laraine has discovered through her own ageing and teaching experience is that individuals have far more capacity for challenging their bodies through exercise than they think possible. “We don’t know how strong we really are because we never put it [our bodies] to the test,” she explains, saying how probably 95 per cent of the older population never really push themselves. Teaching 60 to 70 participants a week with a variety of health conditions and limitations, Laraine insists that classes for seniors and older populations should include a floor component so individuals can practice getting down and up from the floor. “If they fall down on the floor, 50 per cent of people who can’t get up – die,” she says.
So what works best with older populations? “If you have a choreographed routine it doesn’t allow for all the capacities and you can’t always work on function and range of movement,” she explains, and “Getting your older clients to know what an exercise feels like and what it really is to push yourself is important.” Adopting a form of interval training, teaching correct technique and form and encouraging them to work harder are her methods to bring out the best in participants.
Much like in any life stage, she says that it’s important to decide what you want from your life, and what you need to do in order to achieve it. “The best advice I can give is to actively participate in your own life. It can feel hard to age actively with chronic conditions, so ask yourself – how can I do this?”
On her own ageing, Laraine says “It’s a whole new world and means evaluating where I am at, working out what I want for my future, and how I can achieve it all. It means taking steps to maintain my health and happiness, and to make that happen.” Her parting advice is to “Find like-minded groups with similar goals to yours, as this helps you stay informed and motivated and often also opens up a whole new world of opportunities to be more active.” Her message comes across loud and clear – “Be inquisitive and never lose that curiosity and joy of living.”
Laraine’s tips for active ageing:
- Look after your body.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Think positive thoughts.
- Eat healthy.
- Surround yourself with positive people that stimulate and inspire.
- Keep learning.
- Be the best you can be.
- Live outside your comfort zone.
- Live in and appreciate the moment.
- Have fun and try to enjoy every moment.