Gym workout serves as tonic for 97-year-old Toa Payoh resident

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
Lau Soon Siang, 97, works out on one of the six elderly-friendly machines used for a 12-week strength training programme called Gym Tonic. PHOTO: Wong Casandra/Yahoo News Singapore

Twice a week, 97-year-old Lau Soon Siang grabs her umbrella walking stick and ambles from her two-room rental flat in Toa Payoh to a nearby elderly-friendly gym.

After having her blood pressure taken at Care Corner Senior Activity Centre Toa Payoh, the sprightly grandmother of 13 embarks on an invigorating 30-minute workout. She uses six pneumatic and software-enabled machines, each tailored to strengthen different parts of her body, from hamstring to chest muscles.

Speaking in Teochew on the sidelines of a news conference organised by Lien Foundation, the homemaker said, “My favourite is the leg press machine as it removes my aches. I am also not so out-of-breath these days. Previously, I had to pause for breaks while walking for two blocks.”

For her efforts, Lau recently became one of 77 “graduates” of Gym Tonic, a 12-week strength-training programme targeted at the elderly.

Lau Soon Siang, 97, (right) and fellow Gym Tonic “graduate” Choa Choi Huei, 74 (left). PHOTO: Wong Casandra/Yahoo News Singapore

One of the programme’s goals is to help combat frailty – a common clinical condition in the elderly. Lau herself had a fall in December last year where she hurt her back. Following the programme, she experienced improvement in muscle strength of her lower limbs as well as her stamina.

Conceived by Lien Foundation, Gym Tonic was first introduced in 10 nursing homes and senior centres. Since its inception in April 2015, the programme has attracted about 2,300 seniors aged 55 years and above, with 87 per cent of them being active users. It has expanded to 25 locations, including four community sites like St Hilda’s Community Services and ActiveSG Gym @Our Tampines Hub, which are open to senior members of the public.

Two upcoming community sites, Bishan Community Club and Touch Community Services (Ang Mo Kio), will be operational next year. Mun Fut Tong-Ho Yuen Hoe Senior Care Centre and Peacehaven Nursing Home, previously only open to their residents, will start accepting participants from members of the public.

The workout data for Gym Tonic users is stored on individual radio frequency identification cards, which can be used to activate preset exercise plans. PHOTO: Wong Casandra/Yahoo News Singapore

A 2017 study commissioned by Lien Foundation that evaluated 396 programme participants found that they experienced 15 to 20 per cent improvement in muscle strength and grip strength.

Lien Foundation CEO Lee Poh Wah said, “Gym Tonic has shown that physical decline can be reversed with strength training. With timely intervention, we can reduce the loss of functions experienced by seniors and lessen the growing strain on long-term care resources.”

Ken Tan, Managing Director of health-technology company PulseSync, which helped design the programme, said participants have also shown improvement in moods and cognitive performance.

Lien Foundation plans to expand the programme to more than 32 locations – 13 of which will be open to senior members of the public – by the end of 2019.

To encourage more elderly members of the public to join the programme, Lien Foundation is inviting 300 seniors aged 65 years old and above to register their interest online from now to 14 February 2018 for a free trial of Gym Tonic at selected sites. Following the trial, they can pay fees ranging from less than $10 to $50 per month at the different sites to continue in the programme.

For 74-year-old participant Choa Choi Huei, the programme has helped ease the pain in her knees and reduce her weight from 80kg to 62kg.

“Now I have become its ambassador to get my friends to join as well as teach fellow participants at the centre on how to do the exercises,” said the former hawker.