Never too old to chase dreams…

At 64, Diana Nyad grabbed the news headlines when she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida, US. She had to brave extreme cold, jellyfish, sharks and rough seas to swim the longest unprotected open-water ocean swim, covering a distance of about 180 km in 53 hours on 2nd Sept 2013. For the long-distance swimmer, this was her fifth try.

Her message to the others was: “One is we should never, ever give up.Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team,” she told reporters. She was treated for sunburn and dehydration.

Indeed Ms Nyad is an inspiration to all baby boomers. In Singapore, our seniors are encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle when the first Senior Citizens’ Week was held in 1979 and one of its objectives was to encourage the elderly to remain physically, mentally and socially active and to promote positive attitudes towards ageing. The Senior Citizens’ Week is usually held in the third week of November every year.

Statistics show that in 2010, 9% out of 5.07 million people was above 65 years. In 2011 out of 5.18 million people, 9.3% was above 65 years. In 2012 out of a population of 5.13 million 9.9% was over 65 years. By 2030, it is projected that 20% or one fifth of the popu- lation will be aged 65 years and above.

In Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC there are ample opportunities for our seniors to take on a healthy lifestyle. There is the Harmony Park at Bishan Road (next to Block 105), the Bishan Active Park (Bishan Street 23), Japanese garden (Lorong 6/7 Toa Payoh), jogging track at Blk 441 – 445 Sin Ming Court, fitness corners at Blk 207 Toa Payoh North, Blk 150 Toa Payoh Central, Blk 118 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, and Blk 174 Lorong 1,  Toa Payoh. There is also the Senior Citizens’ Fitness Corner Blk 163 Bishan Street 13, not to mention the Seniors Activity Centre in Toa Payoh Lorong 1 and 24.

Within walking distance  from the many blocks of  flats are various parks, many with specially-designed equipment, to encourage our seniors to take up simple exercises.

Take the exercise stepper, which emulates the climbing of stairs, without obviously having to walk up and down the stairs. It is an effective form of a cardiovascular workout. In stepping up and down onto the step, it works the quad and the calf muscles in the legs, and the buttocks too. Or the parallel bar to help you to regain strength, balance, range of motion, and independence. This is especially good for those recovering from injuries, illnesses, and often used in physical therapy and rehabilitation centres.

There are almost endless trails for brisk walking or a slow jog for those who are more energetic. Yes, we may not be a marathon swimmer like Ms Nyad but certainly there’s something for each of us to look forward to even when we’re aged 60 and above.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine

Exercise is Medicine

Talk to Madam Liang Fui Ching and you’ll be motivated to put on your sport gear to join her and exercise. At 59 years old, this homemaker is a sprightly lady whom you may have noticed around the neighbourhood.

A firm believer in exercising as the key to good health, she started her routine about three years ago. She does calisthenics with like-minded residents at the foot of her block. Each time, she jogs for about half an hour. She also climbs the stairs regularly.

Her exercise takes her not only around the fitness stations near her block but also to jog in the stadium and parks in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC. Recently, she has started on weekly exercise sessions near her block on every Wednesday under the BitPAL fitness programme which was brought to her attention by the RC manager.

It involves simple but beneficial exercises like stretching and jumping, under the guidance of an instructor. Each session is about an hour.

”The BitPAL exercise is interesting and promotes good health. I would recommend all my friends to participate,” she said. She has subsequently rounded up about eight friends to join her.

Madam Liang said exercise has helped to improve several aspects of her life. It has helped her lose excess weight. The exercises have improved her fitness and made her feel stronger, such that she is able to go about her daily chores with little problems. Her joints are in good condition, enabling her to continue her habitual climbing of stairs. Thus far, she does not have underlying health problems, and does not fall sick often.

Exercise has also made her feel happier, as it is something that she enjoys and considers interesting. Particularly, it has enhanced her social life. The group exercise sessions are opportunities to make new friends and forge bonds with the neighbours.

Madam Liang lives with her son and husband at Blk 238, Lorong 1. She used to make a living retailing clothing for her employer, but she now stays at home to care for her family members and manage the household. Unless she goes out, she cooks all the meals for the family. She does not see the need to abide by a strict diet, but she makes it a point to avoid unhealthy food.  “I try not to prepare fried and oily dishes. I make sure that there are plenty of fruits and vegetables. Steamed fish is one of the dishes that I regularly prepare,” she said.

It is often said that from morning to night, a homemaker’s daily work is never-ending, and this is also a commonly cited excuse to not exercise. But Madam Liang has proven that thanks to the close vicinity of exercise programmes and facilities in the estate, it is not at all difficult to make time to keep fit and healthy.

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Miss Ong Lian Choon is one who always looks forward in life. Single and living alone in her flat at Toa Payoh Lorong 1, she is someone who is prudent and plans her life carefully.

She used to live with her parents and a brother at her flat but they have since passed away. She misses them but she doesn’t brood about it. Instead she is upbeat and enthusiastic about life. A 58 year- old retiree, she indulges her free time in regular exercise, karaoke nights with friends at Toa Payoh South Community Club, and folk- dancing on weekends at Braddell Heights Community Club.

She even makes time to attend basic English class and is now able to converse fairly well in the language despite being previously more comfort- able with Hokkien.

When she was younger, Miss Ong used to sew and had also worked in a factory. Subsequently, she also worked at McDonalds. Work life wasn’t easy for her; it was tiring and her body ached at the end of each day. Through the years, she  diligently saved her salary and hence is able to lead a comfortable retirement.

Now she focuses on taking it easy, keeping herself healthy and looking after her appearance. Her father had dementia and mother had cancer before they passed on. Her brother suffered from a neurological disorder for 20 years before succumbing to his illness. Nevertheless, Miss Ong is not at all worried. When asked why she started to exercise actively, she chuckled and said “Because I’m fat. That’s the only reason.”

Today, at least three times a week, together with her friend who lives at Lorong 7, they would walk from about 8.30 am to 10 am, covering the distance from Toa Payoh Lorong 1 to Lorong 7.

While Miss Ong enjoys walking she has no preference on a type of exercise. Recently it was her neighbour who urged her to sign up for the weekly BitPAL group exercise programme. An instructor would lead them on how to to stretch and strengthen their muscles. She found it beneficial and plans to ask her friend who lives at Lorong 7 to join her.

Miss Ong has only started to exercise actively since a year ago when she stopped work and her efforts have already proven fruitful. She has checked her weight gain. Unlike many of her older friends who do not exercise, she is able to squat and climb the stairs without any difficulty. She feels healthy and hardly falls ill. Emotionally, she gets a strong sense of gratification and accomplishment when she perspires after an exercise.

What about her diet? She replied, “My friend only eats two scoops of rice with lots of vegetables. There’s no way I can feel full with that!” None- theless, inspired, she tries to eat more vegetables and a little less meat. Breakfast is a healthy affair of oats with just a little sugar.

“Young people make themselves so busy that they have no time for exercise, and they get all kinds of aches and pains. I know that because I used to be like that too. That was when I realised I should stop over-working myself,” she said as she shared her concern for people who don’t make time for exercise.

She is also into folk dancing since four years ago and is today a walking example of why it is never too late or too old to get active.

– These interviews were done for a lifestyle feature about Bishan-Toa Payoh’s BitPAL fitness programme

Work and Study: What it Takes to Get to Graduation

You will probably be spoilt for choice if you’re looking to do part-time studies while keeping your job. There is a whole list of universities from Britain, US to Australia offering a wide range of choices to suit your career choice. And these institutions, government and private, are attracting good enrolment each year.

This is a positive trend because learning should not stop when school’s out. Lifelong thirst for knowledge assures your employability and helps in your career development.

But ask anyone juggling work and studies with personal commitments about their experience, and you will get an earful about how stressful and exhausting it is. All said, many have gone through and passed. Some are working on shifts, some have jobs that require them to travel and yet they were able to juggle and balance their life to cope and complete the course successfully.

What does it require you if you’re studying part time? Usually it means at least a few weekday nights and/or weekends will be spent in class from 7-10pm. It is physically and mentally draining to attend class after a long day at work. But after a few weeks, you will get adjusted. It becomes a routine.

Making time for assignments or projects and exam preparations is another regimen which you need to get accustomed to. Remember, you’re an adult or matured student – you can pace your studies according to your schedule. So don’t sign up for too many modules in a semester. Best keep to two modules to balance with your day job requirements.

Now what course should I choose? First, consider if you want to grow in your current career, or do a switch. For one, doing a course relating to what you’re doing in your day job makes it easier to understand what’s in the textbooks. This, however, should not deter you from pursuing your dream if you want to take an entirely new course unrelated to your work.

Next is to consider your abilities. If you are not good at writing, then avoid a course that weighs heavily on writing skills. Or if you’re weak in Mathematics then don’t do a course that demands such skills. You want to do a course that you are comfortable with, be motivated to pursue relentlessly until you graduate, perhaps two to three years later.

Then look carefully at the institutions offering the courses. Make sure they are reliable and are licensed by the Ministry of Education. Look up the internet pages for reviews by students about their school or lecturers. It is important to do a course that is recognised by employers if you are to extract value from your hard-earned degree. Never assume that getting that degree will get you the boost you want.

Persevering through graduation

Choose a course with a schedule that suits your study pattern

Courses for working adults are typically offered on weekend afternoons and weekday evenings. Are you able to cope with staying awake in class at night? Are you disciplined enough to do your own reading or do the school’s projects at night when you are not in class? Can you discipline yourself to stay focused in class right after a long day of work? Doing well will be a pipe dream if you are going to spend most of the class sleeping or spacing out.

Know your deadlines, plan your timetable

Find out major deadlines for projects and assignments, dates for tests and exams. List them down on a large piece of paper and stick it up somewhere in your bedroom as an ever-present reminder. When planning your timetable, leave some room for contingency. Never leave things to the last minute as they will snowball and you are likely to fall flat.

Identify periods when you can study without distraction. Many find studying between 9pm to 2am a good window. Often it’s not about how much time you spent studying, but how much quality time you spent absorbing the facts.

Form a study group

Join forces with like-minded people to get you through those tough times when you feel your enthusiasm giving way. Studying with others who are in a similar situation makes you feel that you are not suffering alone. However, if your study group is just a group chat then opt out sooner or later. You will be better off studying alone.

Family support

Family support is one of the most important factors in helping you establish a healthy balance. Family members are the ones you can fall back on unconditionally when you need assistance. Seek their support and understanding and they will certainly encourage you.

Take care of your health

If you fall sick, you will have plenty to catch up on when you have recovered. Keep yourself healthy by getting sufficient sleep and lots of water. Get some exercise each day, and eat at regular timings to avoid gastric.

Find time to relax

While you will have to sacrifice much of your leisure time to study, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Make sure you at least have a bit of fun and social time each day.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine