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When a group of young swimmers gathered to participate in the swimming contest at Narmada river in Gujarat three years ago, they were surprised to see a frail, elderly lady lining up to dive in. It was a competitive contest and swimming in the river during monsoon was quite a challenge. But Dr Bhagwati Oza, 72 then, couldn't care less. She swam 3. 5 km from Shinor to Malsar, much to everyone's astonishment.
At an age when most people retire and spend their days reading newspapers or taking care of their grandchildren, 75-year-old Oza has been living the adventurous life of a 20-something. Of course, she has her healthy lifestyle to thank.
The Vadodara resident gets up every day at 4 am and meditates for about 45 minutes. Next, she has a glass of milk and a banana. "I never miss out on meditation as it gives me all the energy and helps me focus. A healthy mind is the key to a healthy body, " says Oza. At 6 am she goes for an hour of jog or run. By now, most people half her age would be panting for breath but Oza, impressively, goes for another hour of either swimming or cycling. "After my workout, I have roti ka laddoo with milk for breakfast. I avoid oily food in the morning and prefer munching on fresh fruits, " she says.
About seven years ago, she sold off her car and two-wheelers and started commuting only by bicycles or on foot. "I ride my bicycle when I go to my clinic or to the swimming pool which is almost six kilometres from my house. It is healthy and also environment-friendly, " Oza says. She may be in her 70s but she is just as concerned about her figure as any 20-year-old. "Swimming and cycling keep my body in shape. "
She has travelled the length and breadth of the country on her bicycle - sometimes for a cause and at times for fun. In March this year, Oza traversed over 3, 000 km from Kolkata to Kanyakumari to promote environment-friendly modes of transport. Her love of cycling was born in her younger days when as a doctor posted in Morbi, a village in Gujarat, she learnt to rely on the cycle to get around.
She maintains a strict eating regimen. "I never eat fried food or get tempted by spicy stuff sold at roadside stalls. For lunch and dinner, I eat four rotis, daal and rice. I can climb the highest peaks at this age because of my simple lifestyle, " says Oza.
Her healthy regimen keeps her fit to try out various adventure sports. She has climbed mountains, flown planes, gone scuba diving, swum across rivers and seas and bicycled for thousands of miles.
But she wasn't always active. Oza started participating in competitive sports at the ripe old age of 65. "Being a doctor, I had led a very busy life. When I crossed 60, I decided to reduce my workload and follow my love for the outdoors. Adventure sports were something I always wanted to do, so I started participating in competitions, " says Oza, who developed a penchant for outdoor activities during her stint with National Cadet Corps in the' 50s. .
Her adventurous streak has earned her over 100 medals in national and international swimming and athletics competitions. In fact, she is probably the oldest citizen in the country to have taken training in scuba diving at the age of 73 in Dwarka.
Like swimming and cycling, mountain climbing is an abiding passion of Oza. She has trained under the legendary Tenzing Norgay, the first person to conquer Mount Everest with Edmund Hillary. Oza learnt the nuances of mountaineering from Norgay in Darjeeling in the 1970s. "The stint helped me a lot to understand the sport. Norgay was an amazing and energetic person, " she says.
At a time when people even in their 20s and 30s lead a sedentary lifestyle and complain of lack of energy, Oza is an example of how healthy eating and exercise can keep you full of vigour at any age. "Age was never a concern for me as I think that it is never too late to follow one's dreams. In the last 10 years, I have enjoyed my life like never before. "
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