'I learned to swim at 75'

Ada Gibson

Ada Gibson used to be terrified of the water, but when she reached 75 she was determined to confront her fears. 

Aged 92 when interviewed, she says swimming has become a passion and has given her a new lease of life.

Every week, her son collects her from home and drops her off at her local swimming pool in Great Harwood near Blackburn, Lancashire. 

Ada puts on her swimsuit and cap, gets in the 20-metre pool and swims about 60 lengths of backstroke in a session, which lasts 30 to 45 minutes. She's proof that it's never too late to get active.

"I really love swimming," says Ada, who has three children, five grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

"I used to be petrified of water," she says. "But when I reached 75, I decided I wanted to do things that I'd always been scared of doing."

Her daughter taught her to swim. "She got me in the water and took my hands," says Ada, from Clayton-le-Moors. "That's how I got started."

Nice and easy

"I've got my own rhythm," Ada says. "I like to take my time. I take it nice and easy.

"My daughter taught me the breast stroke, but I felt more comfortable on my back. Swimming is great. It works every muscle in your body."

She says that as a child she never had the chance to learn, but swimming is now her main form of exercise. She takes part in an annual swim-a-mile fundraising challenge to raise money for the Wright Foundation, a heart and lung charity.

Ada is no fitness fanatic, but says she likes to be active. At home, if she's not doing the housework, she's using her skipping rope or doing a spot of gardening.

Every morning after her bath, Ada performs a few stretches in her bedroom. "I massage my feet and legs," she says. "I stretch up, stand on my toes and I stretch my neck."

She was a regular at a local dance studio for 14 years until it closed. She practised ballroom dancing, from the foxtrot to the quick step.

Gordon Lishman, former director general of the charity Age Concern (now Age UK), says that more than 90% of over-75s fail to do the recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical activity. 

"Getting out and about in the fresh air and getting exercise is really important for good health," he says. "Short bursts of exercise a few times a week can make a big difference to someone's health. It doesn't have to be strenuous."

"I'm active because I like it," Ada says. "I'm not particularly health obsessed, I just like being active and keeping myself busy."

Not even illness has slowed Ada down. The retired dressmaker developed bowel cancer five years ago, but made a full recovery.

"My consultant said, 'Ada, don't let anyone put you off swimming. It's the best exercise for you.' Well, I took that man's words to heart."

She was named the "fittest over 50" in 2007 at the Ambassador Awards ceremony, which was organised by local groups in her district of Hyndburn.

"Swimming keeps me going," she says. "I won't give up swimming until my body tells me it's time to stop."

Swimming in your 90s

Ada Gibson was 75 before she learned how to swim. Now aged 92, she enjoys exercising in her local pool and in this video she explains what she gets out of it.

Media last reviewed: 18/02/2015

Next review due: 18/02/2017

Page last reviewed: 01/03/2014

Next review due: 01/03/2016


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