Feeling Alive and Fit

“I feel better at 90 than I did at age 50”

gertrude 039Mention the word ballroom dance, and Gertrude Fredette’s face lights up with a beaming smile. In a heartbeat she’d be up and ready to fly out the door to spend an evening swinging her hips doing the cha cha cha, swing, the occasional mambo, and of course, the fox trot and waltz.

Forty years ago, it was a different story. It would have been impossible for her to even raise her arm high enough to do an underarm pass while dancing the swing. Besides, how enjoyable can ballroom dance really be when one’s shoulder is radiating excruciating pain?

As she nears her 91st birthday this November, Fredette, a resident of Hanmer, hardly remembers what real pain feels like.  She tilts her head to the side, and scrunches her eyes, pensive, mentally scanning her body, then starts to rub her right leg.

“They were telling me I have arthritis,” she says, still rubbing her leg. “Maybe I still have arthritis. I’m not sure. Sometimes my knee bothers me a bit.”

Not content to label the occasional throbbing in her knee as a health condition that needs treating with medication, Fredette relies solely on natural approaches to wellbeing.  One need only spend a few moments with her to realize that it’s had huge payoffs for her.

“I feel a whole lot better today than I did when I was 50,” Fredette says.  She leans back, eyes wide open and shakes her head at the mere mention of pharmaceutical drugs to help with ailments.  “I’m the type of person who doesn’t like to take any medications, not prescription drugs nor do I take over-the-counter medications,” Fredette says.

Now that’s a rarity in the 21st century, considering a large percentage of the population are dependent on pharmaceuticals for everything from arthritic pain, to high cholesterol, and the countless chronic diseases in between.

In fact, Fredette has never consumed a pharmaceutical drug in her whole life, nor can she recall popping the occasional Tylenol now and then.  “I guess what’s stopped me from taking any drugs is that I’m afraid it’ll go to all my other organs and affect organs like my liver and kidneys. I always recommend people try natural approaches.”

It’s not like she been immune from any health conditions that might call for a pain killer now and then. In fact, in 1971 she was coping with extreme pain in her shoulder due to what doctors concluded was a result of calcium deposit build-ups.

Her doctor at the time urged her to undergo surgery to correct the problem. Instead, Fredette called in “one of those natural doctors.” He was “you know, a charlatan,” Fredette explains.  The “charlatans” of the 1960s and 70s have evolved to become what one would call a naturopath in present time.  And so once a month the natural doctor traveled into her home to provide health treatments, with the aim of affecting her shoulder pain with an unconventional medical approach.

Her cure, she says, was a course of vitamins recommended by the natural doctor, and plenty of good, sound advice, like quit drinking coffee with white sugar in it.  “I had bad, bad pain in my shoulder, but I managed it with vitamins and lots of patience,” Fredette says. “After six months, the doctor (who initially urged her to undergo surgery) did an x-ray of the shoulder and the deposits had melted away completely.  I had no more pain after that.”

She continued meeting monthly with the natural doctor for a year, enthralled by all the new-found knowledge she was gaining about illness prevention and wellness.  She became a frequent shopper at local health food stores, an avid label-reader and a health and wellness book collector, always open to new ideas on prevention. In 1971 she started adding nutritional supplements to her daily regime on a regular basis and hasn’t stopped since.  If she feels a tickle in her throat, or the hint of a cold coming on, she harkens back to the days when her father would be coming back from the woods, feeling chilled to the bone and sometimes ill, and remembers how he’d fix himself a quick picker-upper health drink – a blend of ginger, honey and hot water.

Fredette is the type of person who, once committed, never looks back. She’s never touched pharmaceuticals, she chopped red meat out of her diet 10 years ago, and has never touched it again, she won’t buy any food items with nitrites in it, like wieners or processed meats, and she refuses to buy even one can of pop, regardless of how much her great grandchildren would love to down a soda while visiting her.

“I just don’t buy it,” Fredette says. “So when the great grandchildren are visiting and they ask for pop, I say “I don’t have any,” and they’re okay with that.”  Her motto: “Don’t buy it if you don’t want it to end up in your mouth.”

She began meditation classes and yoga classes at the age of 78 as a way of relaxing her body and mind, and still continues to do her own deep breathing techniques and gentle yoga in her own home.  Somewhere along the line she earned the nickname Dr. Fredette from her colleagues at work during her 16 years of nursing at Pioneer Manor.  “I loved to pass on my knowledge to all the girls at work.”

“My son was telling me the other day that I’ve motivated them to make healthier choices in their life.”  The world perhaps needs more Gertrude Fredettes.

Although she’s not doing the ballroom dance circuit like she was about 10 years ago – traveling with a ballroom line dancing troupe from venue to venue and loving every moment of it – she still takes up an invite to attend a local dance and doesn’t hesitate to jump on the dance floor…provided she can find a dance partner who can keep up with her.

By Sari Huhtala, Publisher, Alive+Fit Magazine