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”