Imagine a game being played on a soccer pitch: the players are sweaty, their calf muscles tight from running up and down the field. Then imagine that these players are pensioners from Bushbuckridge in South Africa, all in their seventies. While the Bushbuckridge Pensioners Association (BPA) hasn't started playing their organized soccer matches, they aren't prepared to let age stop them in their quest for fun.
“As seniors we shouldn’t be sitting around and doing nothing, instead we should always be exercising to minimize getting ill all the time,” explains Anna Vhukeya, a 96-year-old grandmother who uses a walking stick for support.
The BPA members stand to gain from the soccer games and the other physical activities they are involved in. Research indicates that physical activity keeps the body fit and healthy, and reduces the chances of developing heart diseases, cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes by up to 50 percent. Physical activity also helps maintain strong bones and joints. Furthermore, physical activity can also increase energy level, improve quality of sleep and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression - problems that many seniors suffer from.
A retired government employee founded the Bushbuckridge Pensioners Association back in 1996 after realizing that too many older people found that there was nothing to but sit at home and drink alcohol once they hit their senior years. Wanting to offer a refuge from the boredom, he started an organization with the aim to unite all the Bushbuckridge pensioners, to create job opportunities for the members, to encourage and organize sporting activities and to promote tourism amongst the old.
When most people are slowing down and looking at retirement, these seniors are taking out a new lease on life. They are active in their community and making the best of their age rather than giving up on their lives and drinking alcohol. The B.P.A members go on short and long trips four times a year. The furthest they’ve gone so far is Cape Town, when many of the members flew for the first time on a plane. They also sailed around on a boat for a few days while they were still at the trip.
The organization currently has 98 members, all pensioners from Bushbuckridge. They meet once a month at The Swiss Mission Church in Thulamahashe. “What I love most about this group is that we meet every month and exchange ideas on how to live a happier, more fulfilling life as senior citizens, and that is really important for people our age,” explains Ivan Sibuyi, the 75-year-old chairperson of the Bushbuckridge Pensioners Association. “We enjoy each other’s company, and we have truly learnt a lot from each other."
Some of the members participate at Mchongolo, muqhagha, and mthimba competitions, Shangaan traditional dance styles for both men and women. “Our culture is fading away fast because people nowadays are discrediting it and saying it is Satanism. But that is not true. We are trying to teach them to be proud of who they are and where they come from,” advised Esrome Makhubele, 75, a member of the Bushbuckridge Pensioners Association.
While some members dance, others plant vegetables or do handwork, like knitting, to sell to the public as a fundraiser to help the poor in the community. They also do kraal visits to greet their members and non-member who fall ill in the community of Bushbuckridge. And should a member die, the B.P.A members contribute some money to the family, though this is not required of them.
All the activities and efforts of being there for one another have brought the Bushbushride Pensioners Association members even closer. Research shows that the feeling of closeness helps fight against depression and boredom in the old age. The MacArthur Foundation Consortium on Successful Aging studies have already identified several factors that predict successful aging, including regular physical activity, continued social connections, resiliency -- the ability to bounce back readily after suffering a loss -- and self-efficacy, a feeling of control over one's life.
These factors, the researchers say, are ones that can be changed by people as they age, putting their well-being under their control. The researchers also maintain that society has a crucial role in helping older people achieve these characteristics. Based on findings of the research, by improving access to physical activity and promoting social engagement instead of isolating or ignoring the elderly, much could be done to enhance physical and intellectual abilities in later life.
Together the BPA members are helping each other to overcome any challenges in their senior years, and they are happy. “Those who haven’t joined the Bushbuckridge Pensioners Association are missing out on the activities that keep us healthy and saving us from boredom,” advised an 88-year-old granny, Ruth Nculu. “They must forget their age and live their lives!”