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Live long and die healthy: How a group of Winnipeggers are working to live to 116 with a focus on fun, fitness

The 116 Club is a group of spry fitness enthusiasts, mostly seniors, with the arguably lofty goal of living until 116 years old — the age of the oldest living person today.

Having fun at the gym part of the 116 Club's 'tongue-in-cheek' approach to healthy living

Allan Appel prepares a birthday cake as the 116 Club — a group of people, mainly seniors, working toward the lofty goal of living until they're 116 years old — celebrate members who are one year closer to their target. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Nestor Mudry swears he will not relinquish the presidency of the 116 Club as long as he lives.

And if he hits his goal, that will be at least another 18 years.

On this day, the 98-year-old's throne is a recumbent cross-trainer — think a stationary bike and elliptical machine rolled into one — at the Reh-Fit Centre, a Winnipeg gym and wellness centre.

But he doesn't rule his subjects with an iron fist. He's quite comfortable with his workout pals, cracking jokes at his own expense.

"You've never given me any good reasons to why you've lived till 98," says fellow gym-goer Dean Doerr, quizzing Mudry on the buzz around his club at the Reh-Fit Centre.

"It's because I'm stubborn," Mudry quips.

The 116 Club believes in seniority. Mudry is the president since he's the oldest, and he expects to hold the mantle for awhile.

The 116 Club is a group of spry fitness enthusiasts, mostly seniors, with the arguably lofty goal of living until 116 years old — the age of the oldest living person today, Japan's Kane Tanaka.

Nestor Mudry, 98, was appointed president of the 116 Club because he's the oldest person in this group of gym-goers. He's confident he'll make it to age 116. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

While the executive says that's the goal, most members aren't really gunning for such longevity.

Hitting 116 is "probably beyond the reach of most of us, but hey, if you're going to do something worthwhile, you strive for things that are beyond your grasp," said Allan Appel, who handles the club's public relations. "That's what we're doing."

The members say they would settle for living a good, independent life as long as possible.

"Die healthy" is the group's slogan.

Tongue-in-cheek approach

"It's a little strange, but it makes you think," Appel, a retired teacher, says of their two-word mantra.

"It's all part of the tongue-in-cheek effort that this group has to keep the spirits up." 

Appel describes the club as a goodwill group of people promoting their own health. Aside from membership at the Reh-Fit Centre, there's no cost or commitment beyond a pledge to live, eat and sleep well.

"If you are going to join, you'll partake in the humour and the irony of it all," Appel explains.

Another perk of membership is cake, he says.

Meet some of the members of the 116 Club:

Watch a dedicated group of Winnipeggers who have the arguably lofty goal of living until 116 years old. 1:31

Every three months, members celebrate the birthdays of anyone who is one year closer to 116.

Those events look more like the kind of celebration you might expect to see for the club members' grandchildren.

During one such party, a "Happy Birthday" banner is strung up in the lobby of the Reh-Fit. There are seniors wearing matching white shirts with the number "116" in blue lettering. On top of a balloon-printed tablecloth is a large slab cake, with the names of 17 celebrants and candles for each of them.

It's all in good fun, Appel says.

"What's the point of being healthy if you aren't treating yourself every once in a while?"

Committed gym-goers only

The genesis for this club was with executive director Abu Masood, 72. His grandfather died at 106, and Masood decided he wanted to live 10 years longer than him.

His personal goal became a collective one at the Reh-Fit Centre, after he founded the 116 Club last summer.

"That's my motive of life. I want to make people healthy — eat good, sleep good, make your life good," Masood said. "If your health is good, you have everything."

Not everybody can join. He looks for the people working out regularly at the gym, like him.

"Before I take membership, I keep an eye. Who is coming regularly? Then I approach them," Masood said.

"Do they love keeping healthy? Those are the people. Not the 'once in awhile, once a month I show up.'"

He pays for the 116 shirts and the birthday cake out of his own pocket.

Abu Masood, the founder of the 116 Club, seeks out members who come to the gym regularly and are committed to a healthy lifestyle. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

He envisions his club, which now has 76 members and counting, as an alternative to the health-care system alone dealing with an aging population.

Masood knows exercise cannot prevent every medical ailment, but he says it helps. One club member, he says, took the "die healthy" mantra to heart after their mother-in-law became ill and needed constant supervision.

"He says, 'Abu, now I got what you mean by die healthy. If my mother-in-law was healthy, we would have been free from a lot of things,'" Masood said.

He hopes the concept for the club can be expanded elsewhere, and wants to apply for grants to help cover the group's expenses.

Confronting mortality

The 116 Club's members say it's made a difference in their lives.

​​​​​​Reisa Adelman has been going to the gym for years, but says she now feels a sense of belonging thanks to the group.

"He includes all these people who were just on their own," she says of Masood, while going through her dumbbell exercises.

"People like Abu make it even better." 

Reisa Adelman has been going to the Reh-Fit Centre for a number of years, but says she's really felt a sense of belonging since joining the 116 Club. (Ian Froese/CBC)

On a nearby resistance machine, Appel is fidgeting with how much weight he can lift.

"I set the dials to a much higher level so the people after me are impressed," he jokes, before shifting to a back extension machine.

It's obvious he likes the camaraderie among members of the 116 Club. 

"Do I look good, taking a break?" he asks another gym-goer wearing a 116 shirt.

"Everybody looks good taking a break," Jim Wallace replies, without missing a beat. At 87, walking around the track is his workout of choice.

People don't like talking about death, club president Mudry has noticed. He appreciates that the 116 Club doesn't shy away from the subject.

"We thought we'd face the whole issue head-on and say, 'We think that death is inevitable, so let's do all we can to make it as pleasant an experience as we can.'"

He says that for him, living until 116 is an "eventuality." Mudry is so confident, in fact, that he's been asking the club what happens after that.

Their reply?

"Well, if you get to be 116 and to 117, we will then change the name to the 117 Club."

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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