Age­ing cheer­lead­ers of­fer glimpse of world’s long­est-liv­ing women

New Straits Times - - World -

Wav­ing white pom­poms in the air, dozens of grey­haired cheer­lead­ers in match­ing red-and-white uni­forms hop and skip to K-pop mu­sic in the prac­tice room.

Half­way into their two-hour prac­tice ses­sion, most of the el­derly dancers are pant­ing and sweat­ing, but they do not let their bad knees or back pain stop them from what they say is keep­ing them healthy and youth­ful.

“I don’t need to take any medicine be­cause I come here. Al­though I’m age­ing on the out­side, this keeps me young at heart,” said Oh Geum-nyu, 82.

Oh is one of the old­est mem­bers of Cheer Mommy, a 30mem­ber cheerleading squad with an av­er­age age of 75, based here, on South Korea’s east coast.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­search pub­lished in The Lancet med­i­cal jour­nal, life ex­pectancy in the fourth­largest econ­omy in Asia was ac­cel­er­at­ing rapidly, and for women born in 2030 it could stretch to nine decades on av­er­age, the long­est in the world.

The study by re­searchers at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don noted im­proved nutri­tion and broader ac­cess to health­care as some of the rea­sons be­hind the phe­nom­e­non. Some South Korean ex­perts also point to so­cial fac­tors be­hind longevity.

“Their love for in­for­mal gath­er­ings and forg­ing new per­sonal bonds can be a source of en­ergy,” said Chung Soon-dool, a so­cial wel­fare pro­fes­sor at Ewha Women’s Univer­sity here.

Most South Korean women in their 60s and older spent their lives in a strongly pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety, where women are ex­pected to stay at home and raise the chil­dren. Now, some are em­brac­ing pur­suits of their own choos­ing for the first time af­ter re­tir­ing as the “care­taker”.

“I was done raising my seven grand­chil­dren when my friend told me about this place,” said Cheer Mommy mem­ber Ahn Young-ja, 65.

Lee Pal-soon, 82, who takes singing classes when not cheerleading, said she was en­joy­ing the “se­cond chap­ter” of her life af­ter mar­ry­ing off her five chil­dren.

Some are choos­ing to keep their brains ac­tive by go­ing back to school, such as Kim Soon-sil, 88, who is among some 370 stu­dents aged 60 and older at Il­sung Women’s School here.

Kim, who grew up un­der Ja­pan’s colo­nial rule of Korea from 1910 to 1945, had to leave school at 13. It was not un­til seven decades later that she could ful­fil her long­ing to con­tinue her stud­ies in his­tory and English.

“I can feel small changes to my health ev­ery day. If my health per­mits, I want to en­rol in univer­sity,” Kim said.

Cheer Mommy started out as a lo­cal author­ity leisure pro­gramme, but, now, the el­derly squad reg­u­larly trav­els across the coun­try to com­pete in na­tional tour­na­ments against ri­vals decades their ju­niors.

With the youngest mem­ber aged 63, the chore­og­ra­phy lacks dy­namic stunts, like back­flips or som­er­saults, and it takes them twice as long to re­mem­ber the rou­tines. In­struc­tor Yoon Bok-ja said: “They are slow like tur­tles, but they don’t give up un­til they are per­fect.”


Cheer Mommy mem­bers prac­tis­ing a rou­tine in Samcheok, South Korea, re­cently.

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