Ninety-two year old Ana María Guzmán can touch the ground without blending her knees. She discovered the fountain of youth in one of Havana´s parks. For her and another 84 elderly persons, Tai Chi is the key to good health and readiness.
Every morning on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, this group of grandparents take Tai Chi lessons, near a statue of John Lennon sitting on a bench. Their teacher is Pavel González, of the Cuban School of Wu-shu.
The exercises aim to ease health problems common among the elderly. However, practicing this martial art for therapeutic purposes has given them back the fitness of their young years.
Ana María began to exercise following her husband´s death 13 years ago. “We (my husband and I) did everything together, it was very difficult when I lost him, but I decided to come out of the house, do something useful and here, with all of them, I found another family and Tai Chi made me feel like living again”.
In other words, she has finished the Universidad para el Adulto Mayor (The University for the Elderly), a program benefiting that sector of the population. Ana, who has also taken courses on ceramics at the House of Culture of her municipality, recites poems at gatherings and she never misses a tour organized by her group of friends.
What you see every morning in the John Lennon park, as many Cubans call it, is a common sight all over the country. The programs providing physical exercises for the elderly are sponsored by several social institutions, including the Cuban School of Wu-Shu and the department for the Senior Adult Education.
In the face of a low birth rate and an increasing life expectancy, Cuba´s demographic projections show that by 2050 this country will feature one of the oldest populations all over the world.
Some tend to look at the elderly as people who are sick or not productive at all. However, programs like those mentioned above aim to involve the older adults in an active life and to prepare the younger generations for this stage of life.
By Isaura Diez, Photos: Manuel Muñoa
Cuba PLUS Magazine