New body, new business: how exercise changed Maria's life
At the age of 49 Maria de la Paz Tissier was unemployed, battling regular bouts of sickness, and could barely walk.
That was six years ago. Now the mum-of-three can boast of completing her first ever half-marathon earlier this summer (with her sights set on a full marathon next year) and a recently-launched online business.
Amazingly, she credits the incredible turnaround in her life to Hackney Council’s New Age Games, which gives local residents, aged 50 and over, the opportunity to get fit, fight the fat and relax the mind through health and fitness classes at venues across the borough – all for free.
Recalling her ill-health in 2009, Maria said: “I didn’t know what was wrong with me, it was horrible. I visited my GP who diagnosed me with osteoporosis; for a few years I found it hard to do basic movements like standing up.”
Then, in 2013, Maria, who lives in Homerton with her three children, aged 28, 15 and 13, discovered New Age Games, and signed up to Brazilian dance, yoga and ‘fit to tone’ sessions.
“It was difficult due to my severe lack of fitness and being overweight,” said Maria, “but I found the classes enjoyable. Then I started to gain confidence which inspired me to start running on my own - first 100m, then 300m, and gradually the distance increased.”
Soon Maria began to notice more improvements – first with her moods, then energy levels. "When you are big you feel down and lack confidence but exercise changes that," she said. "I lost four stone and dropped three dress sizes and can now share clothes with my 15-year-old daughter!”
Maria’s weight issues meant she suffered from acid problems which were affecting her vital organs. “This has now gone and my osteoporosis has improved a lot,” she said. “As too have the breathing and chest pains I had.”
Maria added: ““It is so important for parents to encourage their children to exercise. My children see their mum exercise and want to do it too.”
In June last year, Maria was watching the Run Hackney Half Marathon and saw people older than herself participating, and thought "if they can do it, then so can I".
On 10 May this year, Maria ran the 13-mile race in a time of just over 2hrs, and 14mins. Then, in August, she took part in a relay race at the Olympic Stadium to celebrate the 50thAnniversary of the London boroughs after being nominated by Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe to represent Hackney.
Her new-found energy also inspired Maria, originally from Mexico, to set up her own company. “I put a business case together which I submitted to the East London Small Business Centre," she said. "In June I was awarded a loan to start my own small business of selling online Mexican food.
“I was so proud. I always felt I’d never reach my potential because English was not my first language and I thought I lacked the determination to get what I want, but exercise has changed all that!"
A new term of New Age Games in Hackney kicks off again next month. Sessions include tennis, badminton, cycling, chair-based activity and archery.
Maria is an absolute inspiration to us all; it just goes to show the power of exercise. I would urge Hackney’s older residents to sign up to this great, free programme, and see what benefits await them.