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Meet the 81-year-old who still planks every day

Your stories | Women's Health Week
Cam Nguyen

Age has not wearied Cam Nguyen (pictured above). This 81-year-old dynamo is still working full-time, leading a national organisation that supports women of Vietnamese and other migrant backgrounds settle in Australia.

She credits her boundless energy to the exercise regime she took up in her 60s, one that includes the plank, the side plank and three sets of six push-ups.

Here's Cam's story in her own words.

By Cam Nguyen

“When I am 64...” goes the lyrics.

When I was 64, the board of the Australian Vietnamese Women’s Association (AVWA) decided that to take our 21-year-old organisation to the next level of development, a CEO was needed. I accepted the position, handing over my president’s role to the then vice-president. It was May 2004. In the financial year 2004-2005, the AVWA joined “The Millionaire Club” with turnover increasing to $1.15 million. In 2020-2021, income was $20 million+ and heading towards $25 million in 2021-2022.

With the income of the organisation having increased 25 times and the number of staff 13 times, the CEO’s workload has naturally increased in the last 17 years. Records show that I have taken only three days sick leave during the whole period.

How did I manage it?

Every day, I not only do the plank but also the side plank and three sets of six push-ups.

Not long after I became a CEO, I attended a one-day conference on health and wellbeing. I remember clearly at one workshop, one of the speakers was a woman who impressed me with her good figure and healthy gait as she climbed up the steps of the stage. She said that she was 75 years old and five years earlier, she had a spine problem which made it so very painful for her to walk and raise her arms.

In one TV show, a physiotherapist offered to take on 20 people with serious pain problems and help them with an exercise program. The lady joined the group comprising individuals with diverse pains. After six months, all had improved. After two years, she no longer had pains and had kept exercising and has been pain-free since. She considered herself as very lucky, including the fact that she had become a role model for her family with all her children and grandchildren having enrolled in exercise activities.

My current exercise program includes a target of 7000 steps daily, with a mix of walking in parkland, swimming and strength training, plus about 30 mins a day of floor exercises and Tai chi.

In the late ‘80s, my older son once offered me a three-month gym membership as a birthday present but I was not committed and let the membership lapse. Since then, I had had a few periods dealing with pain and concluded that it was time for me to be proactive in self-care. Therefore, the day after the talk, I joined the local recreation centre and have been exercising ever since.

After years attending a variety of classes, discussing with numerous fitness instructors and physiotherapists and reading a number of articles, my current exercise program includes a target of 7000 steps daily, with a mix of walking in parkland, swimming and strength training, plus about 30 mins a day of floor exercises and Tai chi split into three or four segments.

Leading an organisation that I founded 39 years ago to serve the community, and working with staff and board members – loyal and dedicated – is a joy and a privilege I feel grateful for. I also feel grateful for having the parents and the husband I had and the children and grandchildren I have.

My diet is simple and limited in calories, with more vegetables and fruit, and less meat from year to year.

I enjoy music and all the arts, enjoy life and feel blessed.

I have no aches and pains. I take no painkillers most years, except last year when I took one Panadol tablet after my first COVID jab. I take no medicines, except Vitamin D, magnesium for cramps, and drops for dry eyes.

Some young women in their 50s say that they cannot or can no longer do the plank or push-ups. Every day, I not only do the plank but also the side plank and three sets of six push-ups. If anyone thinks that is a lot for an 81-year-oldie, think of the Japanese woman who climbed Mt Everest when she was 63 and again when she was 73 in 2002.

Women's Health Week day 5: Move and improve
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