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Wan's Column - Running Into Your Senior Years

Running Into Your Senior Years
Towards the end of last year, I got a call from the National Council of Senior Citizens Organizations Malaysia (NASCOM) requesting for a meeting to explore what RunnersMalaysia could do for them. I got to meet up with Datoí Lum Kin Tuck, the energetic 90 year old president, executive secretary Mr. Cheong Beng Seng and fundraising manager Ms Nicole Foo Ruey Chen. It was felt for a start I could perhaps contribute an article advising the seniors on the benefits of running to senior citizens. I agreed to the request but did not rush off to write from my mind as I feel some research is required. I have been running for more than 30 years since I left school in 1976 and as such it is no big deal that I continue to run as a routine. I am pushing 51 and would qualify as senior citizen in a few years time when I turned 55. I plan to run for many years to come and have no intention to slow down.

I consider myself to be a moderate runner; I do not do the extreme as compared to many that I know in the Pacesetters Athletic Club, Malaysia (PACM). However, when this article gets published in NASCOM magazine, it is being read by seniors who may not have exercise much all their lives. Therefore, I have to tread cautiously with my views.

Old School Mates
During 2 recent meetings with 2 separate sets of school mates, I notice some very distinct tell tale signs of aging among my school mates. While most of us are turning grey or getting bald due to genetic reasons and aging, I canít help but observed the very distinct difference between those who are physically active and those who are not. The fittest looking individual in our group is Yong Lee Ming, a tour leader in group tours to some of the off the beaten tracks around the world. The nature of his business is such that he is always on the move, this account for his good physique. Two third of us who have some form of regular exercise program are still looking fit while the balance one third who do not exercise are showing in their flabbiness, rounded in the middle and sagging flesh around their face and arms. About 10 to 15 years ago when we met, I did not observe those distinct differences. My conclusion is simple, it is their sedentary lifestyle that contributes to the less than complimentary physique.

Singapore Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew
We should draw inspirations from Singapore Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew who is now 84. In his recent interview on how he copes with aging, it is interesting to note that he started to run when he was 53 (back in 1976), after giving up golf. He used to smoke a lot and was a beer drinker till he lost his voice in his speeches. After a trip to Kuching when he felt awful, he decided to quit smoking as it was destroying his voice and he canít campaign with his voice gone. It was his daughter who gave him a book on aerobics and he started to give a try on running. He found that running is more efficient in time as compared to golf. He also swims actively since then. He also emphasizes on the need to have post retirement challenges; mental challenges, otherwise we die young. You could get the full lengthy interview in several websites via Google; type in Lee Kuan Yew Retirement. It is a good read and very inspiring.

Getting Started, Learn to Walk before You Run
I have read equal number of articles that condemn running, saying that it would get you into knee injuries, back injuries and all. While I would agree that every physical activity would have certain degree of risk against benefits, we would have to weigh the benefits against the possible risk. If you could understand the risk adequately and manage them, you stand to benefit from running. There are enough studies to back this up.

Francis Cheng has run the Berlin and New York City Marathons among many others

If you are someone with no life threatening critical illness, you could start an exercise program by just walking; more appropriately brisk walking. You have to cultivate a liking to get off the couch and devote 30 to 45 minutes each day to some form of exercise. Just go for half hour brisk walk as a start, wearing a good pair of walking shoes or running shoes. If your ultimate aim is to run, donít bother to buy walking shoes, buy a pair of running shoes. This half hour walking regime is to set in motion a habit, a healthy habit like brushing your teeth before you sleep. You could do it anytime of the day but in Malaysia due to our hot weather, mornings and evenings are preferred. You could walk by yourself but it would be better you get a friend or two to walk together. Walking your dog could be an alternative as both of you need the exercise. You could walk in your neighborhood, the parks or even the air-conditioned malls. After a month or two regular walking, you would find that you can sleep better, eat better and become more energetic. Visit these useful websites on walking for more information;,,, and

You can now go to the next phase of the program, the walk cum run program. Find a suitable route of between 1.5 to 4km, near your house or in the park, preferably an area without traffic.

Break up the route into blocks of 200 to 400m, aim to jog slowly for 200m, then brisk walk 200m to complete the route of between 1.5km to 4km. The distance you may wish to cover is up to you, 2 to 4km is fine. Do this on an alternate day and on your non jogging days, go for a walk. Every 2 weeks, increase your jogging portion and reduce your walking portion; example 250m jog and 150m brisk walk, then repeat. The distance need not be exact, just estimates or you could use lamp posts as your guide. Jog at a pace you can talk, we call it the talking test, if you jog and could not find the breath to talk, you are running too fast for your capability. If you are consistent enough, usually after 3 months, you could jog the whole distance of 2 to 4km non-stop. You now have attained a certain level of fitness, stamina that most senior citizens do not have. Welcome to the world of the master runners, you are over 50 and you can run 4km non-stop. You notice I did not mention time much, as I rather you do not bother yourself too much about the time, except the exercise duration of half hour to 45 minutes as a yardstick to prevent overdoing things. A slow runner could run one km in 8 minutes, slower than that we would classify as walking pace. A 10 minutes per km walking pace is fine for seniors, please donít go for a stroll.

You could go to these two websites on beginner workouts; the Cool Running web site and the Runners' World web site For more links to informative sites, visit our links page.

If you wish to go a bit more sophisticated, you could get a heart rate monitor. You could get an entry level watch with heart rate monitor from RM150. It is a normal digital watch come with a separate strap to wear around the chest. The wrist watch picks up the signals and the heart rate is displayed on the watch as you walk or jog. Try not to go beyond 80% of your maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate is measured by subtracting your age from 220. If you are 60, your maximum heart rate is 160 (220 Ė 160). Therefore, you may want to keep your heart rate not exceeding 130. Normal humans have a heart rate of 70 (adult males) and 75 (adult females) at rest.

Joints Pain, Weight Control & Sensible Food Consumption
I notice a significant number of elderly individuals have joints pain, especially in their legs and this has prevented them from being more active. Sometimes I can see the problem right away, they are overweight. It is sort of chicken and egg situation, the heavier you are, the more likely you get knee pain due to too much weight asserted on the knee and feet. You need to diet and exercise to reduce your weight. On the other hand, the heavier you are, you are more reluctant to move yourselves and the couch is your best friend, let alone running. I believe it is all in the mind, if you are determined enough to do something, it can be done over time. We start by regulating our food intake, both the quantum and mix and start a moderate exercise program by brisk walking. Take a longer term approach and donít rush as rushing it may result in injury. There is no sustainable weight control program without regulating your food consumption, it is especially important as the seniorsí metabolism reduces as they age. I think most of us understand the general rule of thumb; avoid sweet drinks, deserts, deep fried food, too much carbohydrates and fats. It is challenging as Malaysia is a food heaven. Try to eat a balance of fruits, vegetables, protein and some whole grains. An occasional indulgence is fine, just donít make it a habit.

We also need to manage our joints, especially the knees and consider taking food supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate. These are food supplements and I have using it for the last 6 years with very positive results. Oral glucosamine is commonly used for treatment of osteoarthritis. As glucosamine is a precursor for glycosaminoglycans, and glycosaminoglycans are a major component of joint cartilage, supplemental glucosamine may help to rebuild cartilage and treat arthritis. Its use as a therapy for osteoarthritis appears safe, but there is conflicting evidence as to its effectiveness, despite the positive results evidenced in several prospective controlled clinical trials. (Source - Wikipedia) You could read more about it from other authors via Google search on the subject.

Senior Role Models
Having spent the last 10 years active with PACM, I have observed a number of senior runners and their lifestyle. There are 3 individuals I got to know better than the rest that I shall based on their case studies; Francis Cheng (72), Hooi Siew Weng (71) and Teresa Goh (66). Francis Cheng and Hooi Siew Weng were with me in the PACM Executive Committee at one time and I am in Teresa Gohís circle of social runners for our Sunday runs with PACM members.

All three individuals started running near or after the age of 50 with the intention of keeping fit. Running marathons was not their original intention but having joined a club like PACM, you do get hooked on when many of the members eat and breathe marathons. Slowly, but surely you got into this circle of individuals from all walk of life, enjoying their runs, taking part in road races and going places. The comradeship is great in a club like PACM, and these senior citizens have more time to travel and incorporate in their runs into these holidays. These 3 seniors have done various runs around the country, in neighboring countries like Singapore and Thailand. They have also gone to Europe, Australia and United States for their dosage of marathons.

Teresa Goh started social running at the age of 56, then started training with PACM in 2002 and ran her first marathon at the Penang International Bridge Run 2002 at the age of 61. She lost 22 pounds in one year, training for various competitive runs. She is flatfooted but this has not prevented her from being competitive. When not competing in events, she runs with the PACM on most Sundays at Taman Tasik Perdana. She receives constant encouragement from her two sons who are active in sports, one of whom plays rugby for Selangor (extracted from StarMetro, 5 June 2002)

Teresa Goh finishing the 2007 Kuantan TC Run

Hooi Siew Weng mixes travelling and running

Hooi Siew Weng started running at the age of 47 twenty four year ago as he was attracted by the running vest given by the organizer of the PJ Half Marathon. He has a harrowing experience in that run as he was new to road races. However, the race has created such an impact on him and running has become his passion. Through the years he has ran more than 30 marathons in different countries. Since he has retired many years ago, running is his favorite pastime. ďA runner needs only a good pair of shoes, I donít need any opponent. It is just me against the clock. I donít look for podium finishes. I am more interested in completing the race. For me thatís an achievementĒ He is also active in mountain climbing and has conquered more than 10 mountains above 7,000 feet. He has climbed Annapurna base camp, Kala Pattar and Thorung La Circuit in Nepal. Like Teresa, he also runs each Sunday with PACM members. (extracted from StarMetro, 13 December 2004)

Francis Cheng, very much like Teresa and Hooi started running late, in his fifties. He is still active managing his printing business, a great feat of his age. Each year he tries to do one to three overseas marathons, his last was the ING New York City Marathon in November 2007. He has also done the Sydney, Gold Coast, Berlin, Florida and Hawaii Marathon. Francis is just passionate about running and traveling. (extracted from StarMetro, 23 October 2007)

Join Us To Walk or Run.
I would like to stress that a fulfilling life can be better achieved if you enjoy good health. While certain critical illness cannot be totally avoided, we could improve our quality of life with better health by exercising. Having a group to exercise with will also build up comradeship that is vital in the golden years. Those of you who are keen to get started could join me every Saturday at 7.30am, Bukit Aman Car-park, Jalan Tangling where we conduct a beginners' running program, my community service.


Wan Yew Leong
20 February 2008


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