Still exercising and independent at 95


By Heather Travis
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Some might say Elvins and Hanna Spencer have found the fountain of youth.
Elvins and Hanna Spencer, both 95 years old, are exercise three times a week at the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging. They credit the exercise with keeping them independent and helping to forge friendships along the way.  
Others claim their lively spirit, passion for exercise and active lifestyle has been the ticket to aging gracefully. Whatever it may be, the couple has a lifetime of laugh lines on their faces, but none of these give away their true age.
Looks can be deceiving and sitting with the pair for only a few minutes, listening to their conversation and friendly banter, one would never guess they are both 95 years old.
On Oct. 28, Elvins celebrated his birthday and overnight closed the one-year age gap with his wife. Hanna turns 96 on Dec. 16.  
The pair participates in the combined exercise program at the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging (CCAA) at The University of Western Ontario three times a week. As an inspiration to many in their class – some 30 years their junior – the participants rallied to give Elvins a celebration of a lifetime.  
The surprise birthday party, co-ordinated by fellow exerciser Bob Gladwell, is an example of the close-knit CCAA community that has been keeping the couple returning for 17 years. 
“This place is essential to our well-being,” says Hanna, a University of Western Ontario professor emerita (Modern Languages). “I think we are the most regular attendees.  
“Having to retire after an active professional life can be a shock because suddenly one's days are without structure,” she adds. “Apart from the obvious reward of keeping us mobile and fit, the classes help to bring back a rhythm and discipline into our life.”  
Although the pair has given up driving, they are shuttled to classes by neighbours who were inspired by the Spencers to join CCAA.  
“We’ve met people here we would never have met otherwise,” says Elvins.  
The varied exercise program, which includes flexibility exercises, power walking, aerobics and weight training, has kept the Spencers in shape over the years. Hanna jokes the muscle training and balancing exercises are helping her and Elvins ‘stay upright.’
“You take a fall and that’s it. You have to try and stay upright.”
Hanna says joining CCAA has allowed the couple to continue living independently in their home, located just outside Western’s campus.   
Among the keys to staying youthful, Hanna notes “you have to keep mentally active.”
Each week, the pair attends the weekly Senior Alumni lecture series and tunes in for the Friday performances at the Don Wright Faculty of Music.
Many people search for the key to staying youthful, and Hanna says she has the answer: “My recipe is to eat right; we exercise, we keep ourselves mentally active and we have a positive outlook.”  
“Don’t become a couch potato,” adds Elvins. “Stay active.”  
Clara Fitzgerald, director of CCAA, says the Spencers are a success story of the centre, a walking testament to the benefits of exercise. They showcase how physical activity can add to quality of life.  
Among the oldest in their class, they motivate other members and offer support inside and outside the centre.
“Once someone begins to benefit from the fitness aspect of our programs, what keeps them coming back is the social aspect,” she says.  
The program is targeted to those 55 years and older. Anyone in the community interested in joining CCAA can contact 519-661-1603. A doctor’s referral is not needed.
Students interested in volunteering or work study experiences can contact CCAA for more information. 
Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging
  • The exercise program is targeted to those 55 years and older 
  • Interested in joining CCAA? Contact 519-661-1603. A doctor’s referral is not needed. 
  • Students interested in volunteering or work study experiences can contact CCAA for information.

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