This athlete is thriving in her 70s

Sally Ryan remembers seeing a poster in the Kaiser Permanente mammography department in Walnut Creek, California, back in the 1990s. It showed a senior woman at the beach in snorkeling gear.

“That’s what I wanted for me,” she said.

Staying active and healthy

Fast forward a couple decades. Ryan isn’t snorkeling, but she is every bit the healthy, active senior woman she saw in that poster.

Ryan, a 72-year-old resident of Lakewood, Washington, is a familiar face at her local YMCA. Three mornings a week, she swims 1,500 yards (that’s almost a mile) with the master’s swim team. Then, 2 more mornings a week, she attends a conditioning class, where she gets in more cardio work, as well stretching, toning, and strengthening exercises.

Her Kaiser Permanente primary care doctor asked her: “Do you really exercise 5 days a week?” Why, yes, she does.

“He’s impressed with my regimen,” she said. “He praises me for my good health.”

Ryan grew up swimming in lakes and rivers near her hometown of Mascoutah, Illinois. Her swimming style was mostly self-taught — and, admittedly, not perfect. “My form was bad,” she said. “I made it across the pool because I had strength, not because I was agile.”

When she joined the swimming group at the YMCA 3 years ago, her rough form and rubber flippers caught the eye of the coach. They worked together to improve her stroke and wean her off the flippers. And at age 71, she learned the flip turn — and she’s super proud of that accomplishment. Her secrets for success: “Be patient with yourself. Don’t worry about what you look like. Just keep trying.”

But there’s more to staying healthy than exercise

When Ryan’s primary care doctor noticed her cholesterol level was inching higher, he suggested she go on a statin to rein it in. She asked if she could first try bringing her blood lipid levels into normal range through diet and exercise.

“My doctor supported me,” Ryan said, “and I went on a strict low-fat diet for several months. My cholesterol came down some — but not enough. I’m one of those people whose body creates cholesterol no matter what I eat.” She and her doctor worked together to fine-tune a low-dose statin to give Ryan the results she needed to continue to thrive.

Ryan’s physical health allows her to be active in all aspects of her life. She moved to Washington from California to be closer to her son and his family and to help with her grandchildren when her daughter-in-law went back to school. She helps pull weeds at Lakewood Gardens on Wednesdays and teaches kids about plants, soil, and insects one Saturday a month at a children’s garden. And at age 72, she’s studying to become a master gardener through her local WSU Extension.

And she loves it. “The reward is worth the effort,” Ryan said.

Are you ready to make a healthy lifestyle change?

Talk to your primary care doctor about your health goals. If you’re a Kaiser Permanente member, Kaiser Permanente offers programs and resources to help you on your journey.


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