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WKND - - Lifestyle Age No Bar - 17 fe­bru­ary 2017

hen one thinks of old age, the i mage c o njured up is in­evitably that of dod­dery old m e n a n d women: white hair, skin sag­ging into soft folds, mem­ory get­ting rusty. You cer­tainly don’t think of Ernes­tine Shep­herd, the 80- year- old African- Amer­i­can body­builder with a Guin­ness World record for taut mus­cles that could give any­one even a quar­ter her age a se­ri­ous com­plex. Or John van Wal­wyk, the mod­ern- day Pop­eye who puts his abil­ity to “still pump iron at the age of 90” down to one word: spinach.

It was a Face­book video of an ‘ old’ man do­ing pull- ups on an iron bar that made us won­der if Dubai too had its own fit se­niors — and it does! Th­ese folks maynot be ‘ ripped’ or sport­ing six- pack abs, but they sure can give young­sters a run for their money — and beat them to the fin­ish line, while they’re at it. They’re re­defin­ing what it means to be their age — and that’s fit as a fid­dle. Mo­ham­mad Osman wears a broad smile on his face as he comes strid­ing into Gold’s Gym at Al Bar­sha Mall. His reg­u­lar rou­tine sees him at the fit­ness cen­tre ev­ery­day be­tween 8.30am and 10.30am, mak­ing the most of the group fit­ness classes on of­fer. The work­outs are in­tense. Most days, when he has ex­tra en­ergy post the group ses­sions, he tack­les the gym equip­ment: row­ing, do­ing ver­ti­cal rope pulls and leg curls. He is 75.

The rest of the group’s par­tic­i­pants are “much” younger. “I’m ev­ery­body’s grand­fa­ther here,” chuck­les the Syrian ex­pat. Other gym mem­bers of­ten marvel at his age. He wishes they wouldn’t. “It’s stupid to say age is just a num­ber,” he says. “It’s not. We can­not es­cape from age — but how we end up de­pends on our lifestyle.”

Aformer me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer, Osman has been work­ing out for as long as he can re­mem­ber. It’s sheer force of habit that has him mak­ing the 10- minute drive from his house in The Springs ev­ery­day for the last 35- odd years — but he’s never had to drag him­self to the gym. “I drag oth­ers with me!” he quips. “Most of the mem­bers in the morn­ing group classes tend to be women, so some­times I go and drag some other guys to join us — just to give me some com­pany!”

It’s a lit­tle sur­real to hear Osman talk about ham­strings and Bodys­tep classes, while ex­tolling the virtues of balanc­ing car­dio work­outs with strength and en­durance train­ing; not ex­actly your av­er­age grandpa talk. But the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian is in full flow, ex­plain­ing rou­tines that tar­get the chest, back and legs and the in­ten­sity of dif­fer­ent work­outs. He has some hu­mor­ous ob­ser­va­tions too. “Some young peo­ple are very strange,” he says. “They come to the gym, then spend time on their mo­bile phones. Why come to the gym?” Like­wise for the solemn New Year’s res­o­lu­tions: “You don’t have to make prom­ises to your­self — just make good habits.”

Out­side of the gym, Osman loves his sa­cred af­ter­noon naps and his evening Sudoku. But when­theweath­eris as pleas­ant as it is now, he also loves long walks, of­ten park­ing his car far away from his des­ti­na­tion and cov­er­ing the dis­tance on foot. There’s also the walk­ing track in the res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity where he stays. “I think I was born walk­ing,” he jokes. “I’m usu­ally 10 steps ahead of peo­ple I walk with.” Not very po­lite, he ad­mits — but still great ex­er­cise.

If sci­ence is con­stantly telling us about the pos­i­tive chem­i­cal ben­e­fits of ex­er­cise, then Osman is a ‘ walk­ing’ case study. Hav­ing left the con­struc­tion com­pany he was work­ing with in 2003, he’d gone on to start two new com­pa­nies that were do­ing very well — un­til the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis hit. He as­serts it was his reg­u­lar gym vis­its that kept him from ‘ los­ing it’ along with every­one else too. “It was a bad time for every­one, ev­ery­where… I’d hear many sto­ries of peo­ple go­ing into de­pres­sion, hav­ing strokes, com­mit­ting sui­cide… Per­son­ally, I lost mil­lions. But I found that go­ing to the gym dur­ing this time re­ally helped me over­come the cri­sis. I stopped wor­ry­ing and de­vel­oped a more pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to my trou­bles. Ex­er­cise re­ally got me through.”

Now, the re­tired fa­ther- of- four bets he’s fit­ter than any of his chil­dren and can­not imag­ine his life with­out the gym. “It’s un­think­able… I know I’m not go­ing to live for­ever. But as long as I do, I want to be healthy, strong and able to do things with­out de­pend­ing on oth­ers.” So far, so good! GET­TING BACK ON TRACK: Jan Mad­dern, 64, prac­tises yoga and weight train­ing, which are help­ing her re­cover from a re­cent hip re­place­ment surgery

Age is not just a num­ber. We can­not es­cape from it — but how we end up [ in our lat­ter years] de­pends very much on our lifestyle”

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