A gym for those above 50 is helping to create a community of healthy and agile seniors writes Meera Murugesan

AS I step into the gym located on an upper floor of a shoplot in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur, I don’t see the usual occupants of a fitness centre.

No sweaty men working out to achieve six pack abs or super slim, fabulously toned women.

What I do see is a group of senior citizens who remind me of my parents and their friends - some chatting with each other while the rest go through their exercise routine under the guidance of watchful trainers.

I have to admit, I’m completely intimidated at the idea of stepping into a gym. I don’t know how to use the equipment and I feel out of place among people who seem to know it all when it comes to fitness.

It’s comforting to know that others, especially senior citizens feel the same way too, which is how Activ50s gym actually came about.

The founders wanted to create a space where older people would feel comfortable working out, with programmes and equipment that suits their needs and fitness levels.

Activ50s promotes group circuit-based strength training complemented by functionality training designed by qualified physiotherapists.

Each group session consists of 6-8 members supervised by one

physiotherapist. Participants undergo a fitness programme twice a week and the duration for each programme is 60-75 minutes.

Dr Jillian Yeoh, managing director of Zen Wellness Sanctuary Sdn Bhd, the company which operates the gym, says strength is the most important thing for the elderly because when they lose strength, they lose balance as well and this can lead to falls and fractures which may cause them to be immobilised.

Nicholas Wee Shen Ming, solutions and operations director for Zen Wellness Sanctuary Sdn Bhd, agrees with Yeoh.

He explains that the elderly usually prefer activities like walking and stretching or sometimes,swimming and cycling.

While this is good for cardiovascular health, it doesn’t really improve strength.

“The most important thing they need to be focusing on is building their strength because they need strength to do even basic things like walking, standing and going about their daily activities,” says Wee.

A place where exercise suits the needs and abilities of the elderly.

FITNESS FOR SENIORS

All the trainers at Activ50s are certified physiotherapists and they never start any person on a fitness programme without first getting information on their medical condition and also assessing their fitness level.

Based on that a programme is designed to suit their individual needs and goals.

The gym, which opened in April this year caters to those aged 50-80 with the most number of clients being in their sixties. Some of them have had open heart surgery or they may have conditions like incontinence, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hip and knee replacements, cancer or stroke.

Most of them come twice a week, some even three times a week to maintain consistency.

A group workout at Activ50s.

The gym is also equipped with machines from leading exercise solutions provider, HUR.

Wee says the main difference between these machines and those at regular gyms is that theirs uses air pressure. There are no metal weight stacks.

Air pressure he says is actually better and safer for the joints and muscles and trainers are able to start from 0kg and go in increments of 100grams, something metal weights cannot do and it’s also very suitable for the elderly because some of them can’t even carry a weight of 1 or 2kg.

The equipment is also very user friendly and extensively used in rehab centres at hospitals and retirement villages.

Wee says the average gym can be an intimidating place for the elderly, because the equipment may be beyond their abilities and the routines not suited to their pace or fitness level.

“But when they come to Activ50s, they see people of the same age and immediately feel more comfortable and the fact that trainers are certified physiotherapists, adds to their confidence level,” says Wee.

Yeoh adds that if the elderly don’t exercise regularly, a condition called sarcopenia or loss of muscle mass can happen. It can affect anyone, but is more likely to hit the elderly because they have less physical activity.

When sarcopenia sets in, they lose the ability to carry out even their daily activities like normal walking or going to the park. They will not have the strength to do these things.

This eventually results in them sitting at home and isolation sets in and depression can be triggered.

Everything is interlinked she stresses and exercise is the best medicine for everyone, including the elderly.

Exercise also creates endorphins in our body and we become happier, feel better and this basically means we reach out and talk to people and engage in social activities, which is crucial for the elderly.

“Our clients love it here because this place is for them. It caters to their ability, they get to mingle with others and the personalised approach means we help them address whatever conditions they are suffering from,” says Yeoh.

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REAPING THE BENEFITS

TAN Sew Hoey 73, believes that most illnesses can be exercised away.

Exercise helps one deal with the debilitation that comes with old age and if one doesn’t exercise, old age will be a sentence says Tan.

While decline is inevitable with age, Tan hopes to keep it at bay for as long as she can.

Tan and her 81 year old husband, have been working out at Activ50s since August.

Prior to that she had been looking for a gym for her husband who walks with a hunch and suffers from back pain. She herself has been doing yoga for 10 years.

“Both of us are in the programme here. I realise my husband walks much straighter now. It’s been good for him. Lots of health problems start with a misaligned spine,” says Tan.

Instead of exercising at home, the discipline of a class helps one to be better committed to an exercise routine she adds. She and her husband plan to continue for as long as they can.

Their children are overseas and she and her husband are determined to keep themselves as healthy as possible so their children won’t be worried about them. They also want the strength and energy to enjoy their daily activities and travel to meet their children.

Tan believes that most illnesses can be exercised away.

Ong Chong Kai, 62 works out regularly at Activ50s to regain his strength and mobility after a devastating illness last year resulted in him losing a leg.

Prior to that, the retired publisher, had always been a very active person. Now, he’s determined to regain his strength and go back to his usual routine.

“The equipment here is good and has led to much improvement in my upper body and leg strength,” says Ong, who has been fitted with a prosthetic and is currently walking with crutches.

Ong adds that even his doctors are surprised at how quickly he has managed to get out of his wheelchair and start walking again.

Ong is extremely committed to his recovery and besides the gym, he also exercises daily at home.

The illness almost caused him his life he explains and he’s determined to make the most of his second chance.

“I want to embrace life and exercise and recovery is the first step towards that goal.”

After losing a leg, Ong is determined to regain his strength and go back to his usual routine.

Jayapalan Suppiah, 63, a retired headmaster, joined the gym in April after his son suggested it.

He too used to be a very active person, both in sports and athletics during his teaching days.

Now that he’s retired, he likes to travel, so it’s important that he build his strength and have energy to indulge in his new passion.

“At this gym, when we work out, we don’t feel the exertion on our bodies. The routine is very manageable for the elderly and suits out needs because it’s designed to build strength and agility,” he says.

Wee, guiding Jayapalan through his fitness routine.

THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT

ACTIV50S aims to provide access to safe and effective ways of exercising for older adults and seniors in order to:

Improve quality of life and increase life expectancy

Seniors who exercise improve not only their physical fitness but experience psychological benefits as well.

Improve healing and function

A healthy, strong body can better fight off infection and recover easily from illness or injury.

Prevent diseases or chronic conditions

Exercising may delay or even prevent diseases like metabolic dysfunction, hypertension, diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease and osteoporosis among others.

Increase balance and stability

Falls are the number one injury among seniors which leads to conditions like fractures and dislocation, head trauma or soft tissue injury.

Regular exercise is the key component to improve functional reach and balance.