Young at heart: Fenland’s ‘active oldies’ show that you’re never too old to enjoy fitness

Mollie O'Brien (right).

Mollie O'Brien (right). - Credit: Archant

Two gym goers from Fenland have had the spotlight shone on them by Fenland District Council to show are you’re never too old to keep fit.

Les Wiles at the Hudson Centre, Wisbech.

Les Wiles at the Hudson Centre, Wisbech. - Credit: Archant

The council has used the story of Mollie O’Brien and Les Wiles, who are 94 and 87 respectively, to show that keeping fit is for people of all ages.

Mollie and Les are among the senior superstars at two of Fenland District Council’s New Vision Fitness leisure centres.

Both go there four or five times a week. They don’t do it only for their health; it’s just as much about meeting people and making friends. And neither has any intention of stopping any day soon.

Mollie, a former nurse, is a regular at the Manor Centre in Whittlesey. She does Pilates on Mondays and Wednesdays and attends keep fit classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, usually accompanied by her daughter, Ros Payne.

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“I used to do Aqua Fit as well,” she said. “I’ve reduced my hours, retiring slowly! It’s good for my health, of course. But it’s more because I enjoy it.

“When I first came to Whittlesey 15 years ago, I didn’t know anyone. So I went to the Manor to swim, met someone and then starting coming to classes, too.

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“I think it’s meeting people, sharing and enjoying life. I’m quite a bit older than many others and it makes me feel younger. Sitting at home watching TV all day wouldn’t be me.”

It’s much the same for Les Wiles - an equally familiar face at the Hudson Centre in Wisbech. A retired postman, he plays badminton there three times a week, alternating with visits to the gym.

“I took up badminton when I retired from the Post Office 27 years ago. I didn’t play any sort of sport before. Why do I play? It saves you doing the housework. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it! Seriously, though, I like playing and I enjoy the social side”

Les’ fellow players include 70-year old Ann Leahy, Brian Kierman (69) and Keith Jobson (67).

Ann has been playing badminton for 14 years and also goes to the gym. She says: “We occasionally get the table tennis table out, too. The exercise is good for the brain.”

Brian had a heart bypass last November. “After that, I tried the gym briefly but I hated that,” he says. “So I started playing badminton about a month ago.”

They all say the interaction with other people is as important as the exercise.

Many studies have proved that older people who remain active have a lower risk of several chronic conditions, including heart disease, strokes, diabetes and some forms of cancer. Exercise is also known to help combat depression and dementia.

Branka May, who takes the Pilates class that Mollie O’Brien attends, says: “Pilates is something that benefits the mind as well the body. It is a safe, low impact form of exercise with levels suitable for all ages and abilities.

“The movements improve strength, flexibility, balance and body awareness – all things that are especially important as we get older. They also help with injury recovery and rehabilitation after illness or surgery. And the group sessions are a great way of meeting people and developing new friendships.”

For details of all the activities at Fenland District Council’s four New Vision Fitness centres, call 01354 622399 or visit

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