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We’re living longer than ever before, so staying active is key to fitness and health. But what exercise is right for you?

Amy Chien-Yu Wang
Published on
Wednesday, October 18, 2017 - 17:36
7 min 23 sec

General practitioner Dr Hong Shi is 58 years old this year but judging by her youth skin and slender figure, you’d probably think she’s only in her forties. She says the secret lies in keeping a fun and active lifestyle. 

“Part of my job is health promotion. I need to tell all my patient to living in healthy lifestyle to managing their general health better, you know, for prevent chronic disease. So I think I’ll set example. There is no excuse. Every time they look at me, they say, ‘how you look so fantastic?’ I said I’m dancing. I’m so proud so because I’m dance 3 times a week. They said, ‘how do you find the time?’ I said, ‘you just prioritise, you know? What you enjoy to do and you enjoy it and just do it!’”

"The machine is getting older. So you really need to keep the joints moving and get your heart racing to prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, blood pressures - all those conditions.” - Dr Hong Shi, GP

Dr Shi says at her stage in life with grown up children, staying active also keeps the mind happy. 

“Because our kids is all grown up and they don’t want us stay home and chirp, chirp, chirpy all the time. So we need to enjoy ourselves, make our lives enjoyable and happier and that they all happy too.”

Being happy and healthy also keeps the diseases away.

“Some people doing very extreme kind of exercise. Sometimes they can get hurt. You know, they turn 50s and people, the hormones changing, everything’s changing. Our body’s getting older. The machine is getting older. So you really need to keep joint moving and get your heart racing to prevent cardiovascular disease, diabetes, blood pressures - all those conditions.”

Line dancing is a popular exercise for seniors in China but the Brisbane Line Dance Group which Dr Shi is a part of has turned it into something else. It’s where over a hundred women aged between thirties to seventies find their confidence and glamour performing regularly in community events. 51-year-old Xiaohong Yang is the secretary of the group. Beaming with a youthful look, she says she swims regularly in addition to line dancing to keep fit. 

“I believe if you doing more exercise at our age, you become, you know? More energetic and younger looking so that’s why I want to doing this 3 times a week.” 

"Starting a fitness regime can be as simple as committing to a goal each day." - Cameron Corish, personal trainer

“If we’re sitting on the couch and watching TV and reading and that sort of stuff, we’re not doing something each day. Set a specific time each day. So whether or not you’ve got arthritis, in the morning, it might be harder to get out of bed; or you might need to warm up your joints a little bit by say, 9 or 10 o’clock, in relation to saying, ok, this is when I’m going to do exercise and then set that time.”

Cameron runs weekly fitness classes for seniors. His students range anywhere from 50s to 80s. Couple Gillian and Col are both 70. They’ve been coming to the group twice a week for over three years. 

“We do a major travel about every one and a half years, so you’ve gotta be fit. Last year, we were in 4,500 metres at top of Bolivia and even though you’re puffing and puffing and puffing, you still knew you were fit.”

It was hard at first for Gillian to find the motivation to train on a regular basis. 

“So I probably moaned twice a week for the first year and a half and now I don’t moan, I just get ready but we don’t come till 10’o clock, so it means that I don’t have to get out of bed at 6 in the morning to get here at 7 in the morning or something.  I told Gillian that she have to carry her own bags if she didn’t do exercise.”

It’s a fun environment with about eight students aged between sixties to eighties. Cameron jokes and keeps an eye on the students as he walks barefoot around the gym. He says all of them have some sort of chronic disease or former injury. Now 70, Fay’s been coming to the class for four years. At first, it was to alleviate stress that comes with the lifestyle changes of ageing and to lose weight. She’s managed to lose 19 kgs in two and a half years and she’s also getting better sleeps at night.

The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines and the World Health Organisation recommend adults should stay physically active for a minimum of 30 minutes per day.

“I do notice the difference. I know I’m 70 but a lot of the time, I don’t feel it; especially when I’ve done a really good hill walk and I get to the top and I think, hmm…that’s not bad for an old girl.” 

Col says the friendship with other participants is what keeps him coming back. 

“As well as coming for the exercise, you come for the community that’s here, the people. Learn what’s happening in their lives and they ask you about what’s in your life and listening to the different music. We get a choice of 50s, 60s, 80s music. Then you go home and feel all the aches and pains in your legs and arms.” 

Dr Elissa Burton is an exercise scientist and researcher from Curtin University. She says the Australian Physical Activity Guidelines and the World Health Organisation recommend adults should stay physically active for a minimum of 30 minutes per day but what people tend to forget is that they also need to do strength and balance training twice a week. 

“Many older people don't actually realise that. I think at any age you can be physically active but a really really good opportunity is that first year when you move into retirement because what happens is, you’ve got that little bit of time when you finish working full time, and say, part time, and before you get into the new routine of looking after the grandkids for many days a week, and catching up with friends and family and really filling up your day.”

These can be simple activities anyone can do from home without needing to go to the gym. 

“So, when you’re watching the TV and there’s an advert break, can you actually get up off your chair without using your hands? Now, if you can, that’s fantastic. Why not try standing and sitting five times? Now, if for some reason, you find that you can't actually get up out of the chair without using your hands that means that your muscle strength is starting to deteriorate. So what you should be doing is as your goal is to start using your hands less and then hopefully over the next month or two, you’ll find that you’ll get to a point where you don’t need your hands anymore, which is a really good place to be in.”  

Back at the Core Health Coaching gym, Cameron Corish is busy making sure his older students are exercising properly. He tells SBS that people often won't start a regular fitness regime until they reach a tipping point. By that time, it’s often too late. 

“When they’re told by their doctor, they really need to do something that might give them the motivation. The tipping point is actually getting them to get out of the house or getting them to do something because we get set in our ways, sometimes if that’s not part of our life, it can be quite scary. But once we’ve made the decision to change, generally, they’re pretty good. Just do anything just to start.”