Seniors step­ping up to the plate

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - CHINA - By CHINA DAILY

When think­ing of phys­i­cal fit­ness, the im­age of a mus­cu­lar young man in a gym may come to mind at first, rather than that of an el­derly per­son with gray hair ex­er­cis­ing on fit­ness equip­ment. How­ever, fit­ness doesn’t just be­long to the younger gen­er­a­tion in China. Seniors are also ac­tive in fash­ion­able fit­ness rou­tines, such as work­ing out in gyms and run­ning marathons.

Bai Jin­qin, 71, from the north­ern port city of Tian­jin, has been work­ing out since 2005, when she be­gan prac­tic­ing yoga: “I had a se­vere sick­ness that year. Af­ter leav­ing the hos­pi­tal I started do­ing phys­i­cal train­ing. Re­gain­ing my health made me re­al­ize how im­por­tant and pre­cious it is.”

She now vis­its a gym six times a week, re­ceiv­ing pro­fes­sional train­ing for an hour ev­ery ses­sion: “I’ve made big progress this year — my mus­cles are grow­ing, my fat lev­els are fall­ing and my car­dio-pul­monary func­tion is be­com­ing stronger. As a re­sult of be­ing fit, I sel­dom catch cold and I main­tain a good figure.” In the past five years, Feng Kaichen, from Ha n g z h o u , Zhe­jiang prov­ince, has com­pleted 25 full marathons and more than 10 half marathons.

“I had a chronic skin disor­der for a long time, but run­ning has strength­ened my im­muno­logic func­tions and the skin con­di­tion has cleared up. Even bet­ter, run­ning keeps me from smok­ing and drink­ing,” the 64-year-old said, adding that since tak­ing up run­ning he has lost 16 kg and his bulging stom­ach has flat­tened out.

The phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal health of se­nior cit­i­zens is at­tract­ing con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion, es­pe­cially as China’s pop­u­la­tion is ag­ing rapidly, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey con­ducted on Oct 9 by the Of­fice of the Na­tional Com­mit­tee on Ag­ing.

By the end of last year, the pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion aged 60 or older had reached 16.15 per­cent, among which only 32.8 per­cent con­sid­ered them­selves to be in good phys­i­cal con­di­tion.

How­ever, as the fer­til­ity rate re­mains low and fam­i­lies get smaller, an in­creas­ing num­ber of seniors are suf­fer­ing from lone­li­ness.

Bai be­lieves it’s im­por­tant for seniors to meet new peo­ple when ex­er­cis­ing to keep their minds young and healthy. “If the old al­ways stay at home, they may be­come iso­lated from so­ci­ety and will feel lone­lier. I en­joy com­mu­ni­cat­ing with young peo­ple — it makes me feel en­er­getic and happy,” she said.

The rapidly rising se­nior pop­u­la­tion is also pro­vid­ing a huge mar­ket for the anti-ag­ing in­dus­try. Yang Yan­sui, a pro­fes­sor at Ts­inghua Univer­sity and an ex­pert on so­cial se­cu­rity, used the term “sil­ver econ­omy” to re­fer to the po­ten­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties of­fered by China’s ag­ing pop­u­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey of seniors’ liv­ing con­di­tions in ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas, the per capita con­sump­tion of se­nior cit­i­zens has reached 14,764 yuan ($2,149) a year, re­sult­ing in to­tal con­sump­tion reach­ing 3 tril­lion yuan an­nu­ally, and older peo­ple are now spend­ing more on cul­tural and leisure ac­tiv­i­ties.

Bai spends 10,000 yuan on her fit­ness ev­ery year, and she con­sid­ers it to be money well spent: “If you want a per­sonal trainer, you pay 600 yuan for each ses­sion. That’s three times the price of a group les­son, but the trainer in­structs you one-to-one, points out your prob­lems, helps you cor­rect them and makes your train­ing more ef­fi­cient and ef­fec­tive.”

Feng also spends a con­sid­er­able

amount of money on marathons ev­ery year, in­clud­ing en­try fees and equip­ment costs. “You have to pay much more to en­ter a marathon abroad. If you don’t qual­ify for free en­try through your marathon times, the char­ity en­try fee alone will cost you more than 10,000 yuan,” he said, re­fer­ring to the prac­tice whereby those who com­plete marathons in China in a spec­i­fied time gain cheaper en­try to races over­seas.

Al­though Feng wants to run a marathon abroad, he re­al­izes that his speed will have to im­prove be­fore that can hap­pen.

The work of Liu Zhengzuo, gen­eral man­ager of Taizhou Vi­tal­ity Fit­ness Equip­ment Mar­ket­ing Co in

Zhe­jiang prov­ince, re­volves around the fit­ness of se­nior cit­i­zens. “Ten per­cent of our com­pany’s fit­ness equip­ment is de­signed for el­derly peo­ple. In re­cent years sales have risen no­tice­ably,” he said.

Liu has long dreamed about open­ing a gym solely for seniors, but the high cost and other fac­tors mean it has yet to be­come a re­al­ity: “At present, there are not many fa­cil­i­ties for se­nior cit­i­zens, but I can see great mar­ket po­ten­tial. Any­way, the phys­i­cal con­di­tion of se­nior cit­i­zens is dif­fer­ent from that of the young. The key to seniors’ fit­ness is to do it step by step and achieve progress grad­u­ally,” he said.

Chai Pingyan con­trib­uted to this story

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Bai Jin­qin, 71, ex­er­cis­ing at a gym in Tian­jin.

Feng Kaichen, 64, with his fin­ish­ing time af­ter a marathon in Bei­jing.

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