Health & Family

75-and-over team has already scored a big win for fitness

The player drives for the basket, a six-inch scar on her right knee, white curls framing a determined face.

Cutting behind an opponent, she shoots and scores – moving a bit slower than her teammates, since she's 76 years old and got her start playing high school ball in 1948.

“Way to go, Hattie!” a teammate shouts, as Hattie Stutts catches her breath before bringing the ball in at half-court.

Stutts is captain of a 75-and-older women's basketball team. It's among three teams of Charlotte women training for the N.C. Senior Games competition in Greenville in October.

Stutts is one of the oldest on the court on a recent Monday, when the teams practice together at Dilworth Elementary.

But her remarkable stamina helps her keep up with even the 59-year-old baby on the youngest team. She wasn't even born the year Stutts joined the girls' team at Derita High School.

Stutts and her teammates are proof that if you keep your body moving, you can maintain strength and mobility – and keep doing more of your favorite activities as you age.

As if to prove this, Stutts reaches for her toes after she comes off the court and touches them without bending her knees.

Research on nursing home residents has showed that average muscle strength can improve more than 100 percent from working out as little as 15 minutes three times a week for eight weeks.

A recent study of British twins showed changes at the cellular level in the twin who exercised more – resulting, in some cases, in cells that looked almost 10 years younger.

Some loss of mobility as people age comes from fear and faulty thinking, says UNC Charlotte exercise physiologist Mike Turner. People wrongly assume they can no longer do certain activities and eventually stop trying.

“What we're seeing with older adults who start an exercise program – whether they're 60, 70 or 85 – there are huge benefits that are very long lasting,” Turner says.

Exercise not only builds muscle strength, endurance and flexibility – it can help prevent chronic conditions like osteoporosis. It also helps relieve the aches and pains that creep into joints as we age.

Stutts doesn't give up when it comes to fitness, and she's not afraid to play hard.

She'll show you two fingers she's broken on the court and explain how her 2006 knee replacement helped her game.

Stutts has no trouble getting up by herself when she takes a fall during Monday's practice.

Instead of a fitness routine based on walking, weights or a set of specific exercises, Stutts' weekly workout looks like this:

Monday – 90 minutes of basketball practice. Stretching beforehand is key.

Tuesday – Two hours of league bowling.

Wednesday – Two hours of cheerleading practice for Senior Games competition.

Thursday – 90 minutes of extra basketball practice with the two younger teams on most weeks.

Friday – Square dancing with her husband, Arlee, every other week.

“Somebody asked my oldest daughter, ‘When is your mama going to stop all that stuff and take up reading?' ” Stutts says.

Her daughter's reply: “Never, I hope.”