A 91-year-old pickleball instructor didn't start exercising until age 55. Here's how she stays fit, while eating ice cream daily.
- Leurene Hildenbrand, 91, plays pickleball four times a week and tends to her 24-acre property throughout the day.
- The athletic nonagenarian starts every day with oatmeal and ends it with a bowl of ice cream.
Leurene Hildenbrand, 91, plays pickleball four times a week — thrice with adults, and once when she teaches the sport to children 11 to 18. Many of her teammates are in awe of her hyper-athleticism, and can't believe it when she reveals she didn't start exercising until her mid-50s.
"A lot of people come to me and say, 'You must have been doing this all of your life,'" Hildenbrand told Insider. "And I say, 'No, I didn't start until I retired.' I kind of pour my heart into it. I'm very competitive and I love learning."
Hildenbrand was a research scientist at Goodyear for most of her young adult life before the company offered her an early retirement at 55.
The diligent worker had time on her hands and was looking for ways to spend it. She began by playing table tennis with her husband and some of his work friends, which is when she heard about the National Senior Games, a non-profit competition for seniors that includes tennis matches, swim meets, 5K runs, and more for anyone 50 and older.
Hildenbrand said she grew up at a time when women were discouraged from playing sports, and later couldn't find the time to do so. Finally uninhibited, Hildenbrand played as many sports as she could: pickleball, bocce, cycling, rollerblading, running, table tennis, and more.
The nonagenarian described her daily routine, and how she fits in time to play sports while tending to her 24-acre property in Ohio. She advises other elders — particularly those who aren't already active — to fire up their competitive spirit and pick up a sport.
The 91-year-old rarely stops moving
On most days, she makes time to play sports such as pickleball and biking, and works to maintain her property of 57 years in Ohio. She tends to the house, mows her lawn, plows snow, and even cuts down trees using the wood-saw her son gifted her when she turned 88.
Exercise might be the secret behind Hildenbrand's long life. Science suggests that regular exercise prevents against early death from chronic disease, keeps the brain from deteriorating, and generally help you live longer.
During the summer, she takes a break from her usual chores by spending time in her vacation home in Florida — but she still fits in some daily exercise. She keeps moving by teaching three aerobic exercise classes a week.
"I play a lot of pickleball inside and outside" in Florida too, she said. "So both places, up in Ohio and down there, I'm very, very busy."
Hildenbrand starts the day with oatmeal and ends it with ice cream
An early riser, Hildenbrand is up by 6:30 a.m. no matter what time she gets to bed. She credits her get-up-and-go stamina to growing up on a farm, where she tended to animals before running off to school.
She starts her day watching the news, while eating oatmeal with flax seeds, and drinking a cup of coffee.
She also said she makes sure to drink water throughout the day. Last year, Hildenbrand said she nearly passed out while playing in a pickleball tournament in the hot sun. Her partner quickly came to her rescue with water and a wet towel, but Hildenbrand was back on her feet soon enough. She went on with the competition after a few minutes rest. Since then, water has become a priority in her daily routine.
Between teaching pickleball and cutting down trees, Hildenbrand's daily chores can add up. She typically goes to bed at 11:30 or 12, often after indulging in a bowl of mint chocolate chip or moose tracks ice cream. "I always have six to eight different half gallons in my freezer," she said. "People laugh about that, but it's true."
Playing sports gives the elder a sense of community and makes exercise more bearable
Hildenbrand has been a widow since 2012, but she says her social life is just as active as she is.
"I have lots of friends all over the country," she said. "We play games. We play pickleball. I have friends in every sport that I play in, in everything that I do."
Alongside exercising, maintaining friendships is actually a science-backed way to live healthier in old age. Seniors who stay mentally sharp tend to have strong connections with family and friends, research indicates.
Hildenbrand said she wants to inspire other seniors to play sports. She said there's not special in her genetics; her siblings, both younger and older, have been "gone for years," But exercising has allowed her to live a long, fulfilling life, she said, and the competition makes it more enjoyable.
"You get the exercise as well as enjoyment of playing the game, and you want to excel in it even more," she said. "And then you don't even realize you are getting better in health."
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