SUCCESS STORY / Elsa A. Nystrom, 85, of Marietta

The photo on the left of Elsa A. Nystrom was taken in the spring of 2021 at the Colosseum in Rome. The photo on the right was taken in June, after she started swimming for exercise. (Photos contributed by Elsa A. Nystrom)

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The photo on the left of Elsa A. Nystrom was taken in the spring of 2021 at the Colosseum in Rome. The photo on the right was taken in June, after she started swimming for exercise. (Photos contributed by Elsa A. Nystrom)

‘I’m happier. I ride around with swim fins, a kickboard and goggles in my car.’

When she started: Summer 2021.

Age: 85

Personal life: “I’m a mom of seven and grandmother of seven. I’m a professor emerita of history at Kennesaw State University,” Elsa A. Nystrom said. “I live in Marietta.” Her latest book is “Mad for Speed: The Racing Life of Joan Newton Cuneo” about the first female auto racer.

The lifestyle change: “I started going to the pool and I learned a lot about water fitness,” Nystrom said. “Not only can you exercise your whole body — you’re not going to fall. If you poll older women, 50% have taken a bad fall at least once. When you’re older and you have balance issues, you have to be careful. When you’re in the pool, you can’t hurt yourself by falling. Last summer I started watching the Olympics and swimmer Katie Ledecky. I thought I could do this, and I thought about it for a couple of months. I was afraid everyone was going to laugh at me. My oldest daughter was a coach. We went to the pool; we stood there looking at each other. I swallowed a lot of water learning to breathe. ... One of the things you need to do when you’re older and you want to take charge of your life, you need to have a physical. If you have heart trouble, you’re going to have to be careful of the cardio. I don’t recommend just saying I’m going to just do it.”

Change in eating habits: “Fitness begins in the kitchen — it’s not enough to work out, you have to consider your diet,” Nystrom said. “I started to think about my eating habits.”

Elsa’s how-tos

1. “Exercise helped my emotional balance, but how was I going to do it? I was already doing water aerobics, what could I do — swimming was really my only option.”

2. “How was I going to learn? I thought of my oldest daughter. She came out to stay with me. We went to the pool, and I learned from her. It has given us a great relationship.”

Exercise routine: “I do three days of water aerobics and two days of swimming,” Nystrom said. “Right now, I’m working with fins and a kickboard to strengthen my quads and my thighs because I want to learn to do a flip turn.”

Biggest challenge: “Swimming was a leap of faith,” Nystrom said. “It’s not easy to learn to swim well. It takes thought: You have to think when you’re swimming about position and breathing and kicking.”

Elsa’s top tips:

1. “Everyone is motivated differently.”

2. “You have to love what you’re doing. If you’re doing something you don’t enjoy because you feel you have to do it, it’s not going to work. ... You have to find something that will make you realize you like doing this.”

3. “Pick something you’re physically able to do. Because you might want to do rock climbing, and if you’re 80 years old, start at the proper level. ... Start with a physical exam. After you think about what you’d like to do, go to the doctor, see what the doctor has to say.”

How has her life changed: “I’m happier,” Nystrom said. “I ride around with swim fins, a kickboard and goggles in my car. I can swim freestyle now, and I can swim laps., I really enjoy it. ... Don’t get discouraged, you’ve got to have your eyes on the prize — that eventually you will get there. You may not reach your weight goal, but you will definitely reach a better stage of emotional health by working out.”


Seeking readers’ stories of lifestyle changes: We’re looking for stories about changing health habits. While The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not endorse any specific programs, we include names and links for the benefit of readers who want further information. If you would like to share your story of a lifestyle change, please contact reporter Michelle C. Brooks and include your email address, phone number, and before and after photos (by mail or JPEG). You can email her directly at ajcsuccessstories@gmail.com.