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It is never too late to turn the clock back on ageing. Yee Sze Mun is living proof that you can get fitter as you get older, writes Meera Murugesan
HE is 75 going on 17. At a time when most people his age are complaining about the aches and pains of growing old and swapping horror stories of hospital visits, Yee Sze Mun has taken life by the horns.
The senior citizen has a fitness regime that will put young people to shame. He is also competing in sporting and adventure activities that would tire even a 20-year-old.
He’s proof that ageing can be reversed and that it’s possible for one to be fitter in the golden years than at any other point in life.
But the father of two and grandfather of one, didn’t start out to wage a conscious war against ageing. Like most Malaysian men, he had little, if any, time to focus on exercise or a healthy lifestyle during his most productive years.
THE WAKE-UP CALL
As regional manager for an Australian company, his job required extensive travel for six months in a year and it took a toll on his health and personal life. Later, he started his own business and shouldered all the challenges that came with it.
“The early part of my life put a lot of stress on my body. Life was a rush. In middle age, I was better off financially but started to feel the effects of chasing money as I wasn’t in the best of health,” says Yee.
His wake-up call came at 48. One night, when he was out buying dinner for his family, he came across a newly-opened clinic in the neighbourhood and, impressed by the layout of the place, walked in for a better look. The young doctor in charge not only showed Yee around the clinic but also convinced him to get a full medical checkup.
When Yee went back the following week for the results, he was shocked to be told that his blood pressure, cholesterol and uric acid levels were high and that he had to shape up or face the possibility of death by 60.
That same year he had his palm read by an Indian astrologer who told him that his lifeline was ending at 67, a prediction that further shook Yee out of his complacency.
“The medical check-up was a wake-up call and the reading by the palmist turned the call into an alarm.”
START OF FITNESS JOURNEY
Yee joined a gym and started working out but found he couldn’t get rid of his pot belly. He then turned to jogging and found it to be a more effective way to tone the body and soon, he was hooked on running.
At 50, he went for the 21km PJ Half Marathon. At the 15km point, he was about to give up when an overweight, middle-aged woman ran past him.
“My male ego wasn’t going to let her beat me. I carried on and managed to make it to the finishing line. But I never caught up with her!” says Yee with a laugh.
He went on to participate in four more half marathons that same year and these days, his workout routine is so intense that most people would either marvel at it or be completely scared off.
Yee works out twice a day, six times a week — swimming, running, cycling and weight lifting — and his endurance level has taken off in a huge way. He has taken part in over 200 triathlons and is a 17-time participant of the gruelling Ironman Race, successfully finishing 15 of them.
This month, he’s taking on another challenge, a seven-day race across the Moroccan Sahara called Marathon Des Sables. Participants will be running a 250km course in what is billed as the toughest footrace on earth.
Yee’s involvement is linked to a good cause as he and other members of the Malaysian team will be using their participation to raise funds for Persatuan Kebajikan Kanak-Kanak Kurang Upaya Subang Jaya, a centre which provides training for children with disabilities.
TURN BACK THE CLOCK
Yee says it’s never too late to start a healthy lifestyle and he’s proof that even starting late can make a difference.
Unlike many of his peers, he hardly ever has the need to see a doctor, doesn't suffer from any major age-related disease and has a resting heart rate of 49 or 50 when most people his age would have one that hovers at 80.
He carefully measures his blood pressure and heart rate every morning and keeps meticulous records of both for the last 18 years as he believes it’s important to understand what the body is trying to tell us.
His diet is nothing unusual as he believes moderation is the key rather than sacrificing the pleasures of food. He eats regular meals with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
“I eat what I want but in moderation. Food is a reward for the hard work I put in everyday,” he says.
Asian culture has always viewed ageing as a reason to slow down and take things easy but Yee finds the opposite to be true.
He says when a person starts to think they’re old, they feel old and when they’re surrounded by others who feel the same way and only have ill health to share with one another, the effects can be devastating.
He, on the other hand, is training and competing with people who are decades younger and it keeps him feeling good and inspired to do more. He is constantly amazed at the new heights he can reach and is always motivated to break his own records.
“I’m in this to compete against myself and Mother Nature,” he says.
His life lessons
• Age is not a burden or a handicap.
• Work won’t kill you but worry will.
• Know your goals and understand what it takes to get there.
• Always have a purpose in life no matter what your age.
Made of metal
Ironman is a triathlon competition which requires the participants to:
• Swim for 3.86km
• Cycle for 180.25km and
• Run a marathon of 42.2km.
• All the courses are done consecutively, without a break.
• Most Ironman events have a strict time limit of 17 hours to complete all three courses.
• Training takes several years before a triathlete is prepared to safely compete.