Tuesday 24 March 2015

Free fitness programme for seniors

They can get fit with aid from trained volunteers in Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC
By Kash Cheong, The Straits Times, 23 Mar 2015

A GROUP of 40 seniors from Toa Payoh who got fit on their doorstep have paved the way for thousands more to follow.

In January, they started trying out new exercise equipment such as steppers, cycling machines and back trainers at fitness stations near their flats.

Some of the equipment have adjustable resistance so they can set their targets higher as they progress.

After an eight-week trial, and with help from fitness trainers, four out of five participants have increased their strength, flexibility or balance.

Most could also walk further.

The pilot scheme, which trained seniors in two groups of 20, was such a success that it is now a fixture called Bishan-Toa Payoh Active Living (BiTPAL).

A 12-week free programme will be offered to all Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC residents over 50.

"I feel fitter after a good sweat," said Madam Tan Siew Eng, 63, who took part in the trial. "It's really much better than exercising alone. You exercise in a group and feel more motivated."

Most public fitness areas have equipment with fixed resistance, but having adjustable machines means that older or more frail residents can do lighter exercises while stronger ones can take it up a notch.

Trainers from local company Fitness and Health International (FHI) coached them in hour-long sessions.

Defence Minister and Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC MP Ng Eng Hen said at the launch of BiTPAL yesterday: "We want our elderly to live a healthy lifestyle which will translate into better health for them."

Thirty-two elderly fitness stations with new equipment have been built and 40 more will be up by the end of this year.

The stations, located within a 10-minute walk of each block, are funded by the town council and a government grant.

"This is good use of public funds to improve the lives of residents and the value of their property," said Dr Ng.

Elderly residents can register at community centres for classes at designated fitness stations.

FHI staff will train grassroots volunteers to supervise them.

Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC has one of the highest proportions of elderly residents in Singapore.

Dr Ng expects this figure to rise from 69,000 currently to over 100,000 seniors in the next decade.

Doctors from Singapore General Hospital offered advice on the kind of equipment and exercises required for BiTPAL.

Dr Ng Yee Sien, who heads the rehabilitation medicine department at SGH, said: "They target strength, stamina, flexibility and balance. These are key to preventing falls so that seniors need not be hospitalised."

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