'Britain’s oldest exercise class' has a combined age of 1,500

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·4-min read

Watch: Retirees with combined age of 1,500 years make up UK's oldest exercise class

Led by a sprightly 81-year-old instructor, Britain's oldest exercise class, a group of retirees with a combined age of more than 1,500 years, are still happily getting their sweat on to keep fit every week.

Every Tuesday at 11am, 20 senior citizens meet up in a village hall in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire to perform pilates.

The group, made up of 19 women and one man, is led by Frances Dumbleton, 81, a local resident and former photographer, who started the class in 2016 to give older people an opportunity to exercise and socialise.

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The group participants have a combined age of 1,500 years. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)
The group participants have a combined age of 1,500 years. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)

Initially she only expected a handful of seniors to show up, but nearly six years later, the group has proved hugely popular with a committed set of regulars, who say it provided vital support during the COVID pandemic.

The class, which is free to attend, has been dubbed 'Laughasize Pilates', as it also features comedy from leader Dumbleton, a former stand-up comic.

"We are a lot fitter and healthier than before," she explains. "During the class I tell jokes and anecdotes to make them all laugh."

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As well as laughter, Dumbleton says she believes exercise and a good diet to be the secrets to living a long and happy life.

"And plenty of sex if you can get it!" she adds.

Frances Dumbleton, 81 set up the class six years ago. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)
Frances Dumbleton, 81 set up the class six years ago. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)

Three of the group's members are in their tenth decade: Pat Carter and Kitty Arnold, both 91, and Mary Cross, 90, while John Maisey, 81, is the only man in the group, which he apparently doesn't mind.

"He enjoys having 19 women all to himself for an hour every Tuesday morning!" Dumbleton says.

The rest of the class is made up of 14 members who are over 80, and two who are in their late 70s.

Participants turn up every week and perform stretches while Dumbleton tells them jokes.

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'Laughasize' the Whittlesford Pilates group, whose members are all over 75 with three members in their 90s. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)
'Laughasize' the Whittlesford Pilates group, whose members are all over 75 with three members in their 90s. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)

While the session was initially started as an exercise class, the group members say it has evolved to mean something deeper to its participants.

"I must say, I think it's been a lifesaver for me," Mary Cross explains. "I should hope that I go on to be 100.

"Not only has it been good to learn how to do exercise, but it's been such a good community thing. We all get on well together."

Mrs Carter, who turns 92 in April, adds: "It's been a marvellous social asset to the village."

Members say the group has helped with their mental health. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)
Members say the group has helped with their mental health. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)

Dumbleton, who co-instructs the class with Margaret Forster, 81, says the weekly class provided some much-needed interaction during the darker days of the pandemic, when rules allowed of course.

"It is a real joint effort from us all," she adds.

"Its offered support as well as being the thing that's been constant, particularly when a lot of the things that people used to do have been curtailed."

John Maisey, aged 81, is the only male member of the group. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)
John Maisey, aged 81, is the only male member of the group. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)

At the very first class in 2016, about 15 women and one man turned up.

"I told the first class that although I could not reverse time, I could slow it down considerably," Dumbleton continues.

"Everyone loved the exercises and more members joined. While teaching pilates, I add in the odd little funny comment or joke and, with this, the companionship flourishes.

"Last year the group, now 20-strong, celebrated five complete years of pilates with a special Christmas lunch."

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Pat Carter who will be 92 in April this year, Kitty Arnold who is 91 and Mary Cross who will be 91 in July this year lift some dumbbells. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)
Pat Carter who will be 92 in April this year, Kitty Arnold who is 91 and Mary Cross who will be 91 in July this year lift some dumbbells. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)
The group has been a great support during the COVID-19 pandemic. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)
The group has been a great support during the COVID-19 pandemic. (James Linsell-Clark/SWNS)

Despite their age, Dumbleton says her class members are showing no signs of slowing down.

"We are a feisty bunch!" she adds. "Five of us have husbands or toyboys and the rest are merry widows. No spinsters!

"I thought [the numbers] would vary – 20 is too many, really. But they keep coming!"

Dumbleton's zest for life is clearly catching.

Additional reporting SWNS.

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