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Theresa Brickley does yoga at her home in Tai Tam, Hong Kong. The 69-year-old says keeping fit while listening to your body is key to slowing the ageing process. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

How strength training, yoga and listening to her body have helped a 69-year-old age well

  • Theresa Brickley does yoga, Pilates, swimming, hiking, strength training and dance every week. To stay healthy, keep fit while listening to your body, she says
  • Iyengar yoga in particular has helped Brickley, a Hong Kong resident, overcome back, shoulder and knee injuries and improve all aspects of her well-being

If you’re searching for a natural way to slow the ageing process, look no further than a regular exercise regimen; it can be as simple as playing a sport, walking, swimming or practising yoga.

You don’t have to train for a triathlon or spend hours in the gym to reap the myriad benefits of regular exercise. And it’s never too late to get started.

Theresa Brickley is an exemplar of how to age well.

She has focused on fitness since her twenties and four decades later, at 69, she remains as active as ever – despite having endured multiple injuries and surgical procedures through the years.

Staying healthy makes me feel strong and confident, ready to enjoy each day with peace and happiness
Theresa Brickley

Her current weekly exercise routine incorporates full-body workouts – practising yoga and Pilates, swimming, hiking, strength training and Kizomba, a dance originating in Angola.

“Fitness is a way of life for me. I like to keep myself healthy, both physically and mentally,” says Brickley, a long-term resident of Hong Kong.

Theresa Brickley with George Dovas, head teacher at the Iyengar Yoga Centre of Hong Kong. Photo: IYCHK

In her early twenties, she had a herniated disc in her lower back and underwent spinal fusion surgery to permanently connect vertebrae and eliminate motion between them.

“I was shocked that I needed to undergo back surgery at such a young age. I could not walk for a month and was in immense pain after the operation,” says Brickley, who was studying in Munich, Germany at the time.

Theresa Brickley on the Wilson Trail on Hong Kong Island. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

A friend recommended yoga classes to help her recover. They worked.

“Yoga saved me. Within a few weeks the pain was gone. I was amazed at how fast I recovered.”

Brickley moved to Hong Kong in 1990 and started learning tennis with a few friends to shed the extra weight she had put on during her two pregnancies.

Theresa Brickley regularly does antigravity exercises at home as part of her fitness regimen. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
She also started hiking with friends, frequenting the Wilson Trail and the tracks around Tai Tam Reservoir on Hong Kong Island.

After a decade of playing tennis, in 1996 Brickley suffered a meniscus tear in her knee and needed surgery.

“Years of playing tennis had taken a toll on my body,” she says. She gave up tennis and took up golf instead.
We can respond to the ageing process, rather than ignore it.
George Dovas, Iyengar Yoga Centre of Hong Kong

“Golf had always fascinated me, especially the mental aspect of the game. I had always wanted to experience being on the course,” says Brickley. She played for seven years – until a left shoulder injury required surgery in 2003.

“I realised that I needed to focus on activities that were gentler on my body,” she says. She stopped playing golf and took up yoga again after more than two decades, joining the healthy back classes at the Iyengar Yoga Centre of Hong Kong (IYCHK).

George Dovas, IYCHK’s head teacher, says Brickley’s shoulder issues were largely because of a lack of mobility in her upper back and shoulder blades. Careful mobilisation of the shoulders, neck and upper back helped reduce her shoulder impingement.

George Dovas helps Theresa Brickley in an exercise as part of IYCHK’s Healthy Back class. Photo: IYCHK

The healthy back classes include work to mobilise the rib cage on which the shoulder blades are fixed, using ropes hanging from the wall to help students do the postures correctly even when they have underlying physical restrictions or injuries.

Using standing poses, Brickley was able to strengthen muscles surrounding the knee joint to alleviate her knee pain.

Iyengar yoga takes into account changes to the body as we age, on both the physical and mental planes.

Age-related muscle loss: why it happens and how to deal with it

“Approaching the practice with a two-pronged approach of courage and caution, yoga can be practised by anyone of any age, and we can respond to the ageing process rather than ignore it,” Dovas, 48, says.

“Theresa is a case in point for how a correct approach to yoga serves as an adjunct to a healthy and happy lifestyle.”

Brickley has been attending classes regularly for the past decade and says yoga has helped in all aspects of her well-being.

Theresa Brickley regularly does yoga at her home in Hong Kong. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

“It has strengthened my muscles, helped me stay in the present moment, and made me mentally stronger. I feel happy when I practise yoga,” she says.

She has also taken up strength training. At 30 years of age, our bone mass stops increasing. From our forties, we start losing more bone than we make. Doing weight-bearing exercises throughout life helps increase bone mass and build bone strength and density.

Brickley trains twice a week with a trainer. Moe Ng, a regional head coach at Pure Fitness, describes how the aim was to strengthen her shoulders, hips and core muscles, using body weight and bands.

Theresa Brickley does a balancing workout at Pure Fitness. Photo: Pure Fitness

“We focus on joint stability, body symmetry and achieving an optimum range of motion of the knees, hips, and shoulders,” Ng says.

What motivates Brickley to keep moving? “Staying healthy makes me feel strong and confident, ready to enjoy each day with peace and happiness,” she says.

Her definition of fitness has changed over the years. “When I was younger, I enjoyed high-impact cardio activities and fitness was physical for me. Now, being healthy is holistic and encompasses both physical and mental fitness.

One hour a week of strength training ‘lowers risk of death by up to 20 per cent’

“I have learned to listen to my body, be kind to myself and enjoy the journey. I have found a balance between being active and finding a pace that I enjoy.”

Her advice for people who want to get active and stay active is to find activities that you enjoy, listen to your body, and enjoy the moment. The most important thing is to start – and never give up.

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