Old age won’t stop these women from living a healthier lifestyle. They prove that their age, ranging from the mid-60s to the early 80s, is just a number. Aside from their passion for dancing and singing, they make it a habit to box in a gym in Cosmo City, Johannesburg. They are fondly known as South Africa’s “boxing grannies,” and these women are fighting their way to healthier lives.
Constance Ngubane, one of the many women who come to the gym since the Boxing Gogos (another term for “grandmother” in South Africa) program started in 2014 said that boxing made her feel younger. “My life was on and off, you know — sometimes good, sometimes bad. But since I started boxing … I feel young like I’m 16.” Incredible words from an octogenarian.
These women consider boxing as a social and physical activity in one, a combination that strengthens the benefits of exercise. Research from the Mayo Clinic showed that physical activities that promote social interaction were related to a longer lifespan.
“I love to mix with the other grannies. They are like family,” Ngubane said. The social factor of longevity has caught the interest of researchers, along with other tangible aspects like diet, exercise, and smoking.
Sarah Harper, professor of gerontology at the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing told CNN that they started to realize the importance of the social world and not just only focus on food and exercise. “Social connectivity both within one’s own peers, within a family, between generations — we know that in many ways, that can have almost the same effect as living a good life, eating well, not smoking, not drinking too much alcohol. A lot of research is now looking at social relationships and how social networking, like avoiding loneliness for example, can help somebody live a longer life,” Harper said.
Mable Makhosi, another granny, has also noticed a significant change in her health in the years since she started boxing in the gym. In particular, she has seen improvements in her blood pressure and diabetes. “When I come here, I found my sugar can be controlled, even my high blood [pressure]. When I go to the hospital for a check-up, my doctor [asked] me, ‘What did you do? You used to have a problem with diabetes!’ I said, ‘No, I’ve done my exercise.’ My doctor told me I’m doing well, and it does help you.”
The boxing grannies have been going twice a week to a gym in the suburban area of Johannesburg since 2014. Claude Maphosa, one of the visionaries behind this program, has witnessed the grannies transform since the program started.
“The changes I’ve noticed among them — their self-esteem is quite overwhelming,” Maphosa said. “It is quite exciting to see someone who was just hopeless and now full of life,” she added.
The Cosmo City gym has helped the elderly community there, particularly women, in staying active and motivated. Aside from training these women, Maphosa is also gaining life lessons, perhaps much from what the grannies are gaining from his gym. “What I’ve learned from these grannies is, you have to have patience, perseverance and you’ve got to be disciplined yourself,” he said. “It teaches you a lot about life and the way of health and encourages me to keep on going.”