Wednesday August 8, 2012
Live long, live well
By MAJORIE CHIEW
It’s never too early to start working towards a healthy old age. And that involves body, heart and mind.
AS one ages, it’s natural to slow down a notch or two. But more and more, you find elderly folk who continue to lead an active life while keeping illness at bay.
How do they do it? Has it to do with what they eat, maintaining physical activity or having a positive attitude?
A quick chat with various seniors shows that often, it’s a combination of that, plus care which starts way before one reaches so-called “old age”.
Octogenarian Siew Pak Seng is hard of hearing but his second daughter thinks his secret to longevity is “having no worries and being happy-go-lucky”.
“My father loves singing and dancing,” says Elizabeth, 51, formerly a data entry clerk.
She adds that Siaw, 83, keeps himself busy with activities tailored for seniors at the YMCA in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. Despite having one good eye, he is independent and still drives himself wherever he wants to go.
He also believes in nutritional supplements to maintain his health. He pops ginseng pills to overcome daily fatigue and glucosamine to boost the growth of cartilage and connective tissue.
He has hypertension and maybe even diabetes, Elizabeth adds, but insists on having meat whenever he feels like it and refuses to cut down on salty food.
“He dislikes bland food and habitually adds dashes of soy sauce if he finds a dish tasteless.”
Former sales supervisor Robert Chan, 77, also subscribes to good nutrition for staying healthy and fit.
“I believe in plenty of exercise as well as food supplements or nutritious food,” says Chan, who emphasises that eating ordinary meals alone is not enough to stay healthy, particularly in old age. “Ordinary food just keeps us from getting hungry.”
He started taking supplements at 40 and has diligently kept it up. He buys these four to five times a year, spending about RM1,000 each time he goes shopping.
“I take evening primrose oil – it’s not just for ladies. Men can take it too, to regenerate cells in their body and for a youthful skin. It also helps to strengthen the immune system.”
Chan also consumes bee pollen and royal jelly. After retiring at 55, he added shark liver oil, glucosamine and ginseng to his list.
He is up by 5.30am and will take his supplements on an empty stomach, followed by a breakfast of toast with margarine and pickled onions, which he terms his “natural antibiotics”. (To pickle onions, squeeze lime juice on sliced Bombay onions and keep them in the refrigerator for awhile.)
This outgoing senior goes dancing twice weekly and plays golf two days a week too. Some days, he does push-ups in a field in his housing estate.
To stay young at heart, a good mental attitude is important, Chan says.
“Never think you are old. If you consider yourself old, then you will get old faster. Your body is like a system. If you don’t use it, it will slow down. But if you keep yourself active and exercise, you will be stronger.”
Time and again, eggs get bad press for being “high in cholesterol”. But egg-lover Liew Peng Wah, 72, dismisses that worry.
“Eggs are the best multi-vitamins,” says Liew, who has been eating eggs for breakfast daily for the past decade. “If they can be hatched into little chicks, they are nutritious enough to eat! Eating eggs is as good as eating chickens.”
He enjoys half-boiled eggs with wheatgerm bread. Sometimes, he takes quail eggs, which are considered a dietary and healing food as their nutritional value is said to be three to four times that of chicken eggs (geniuscook.com/quail-eggs/).
“I enjoy them hard-boiled and take two eggs at a time,” says Liew, who includes all sorts of fruits in his diet.
“I don’t eat instant noodles. I also avoid canned food as they have preservatives, and fried foods,” adds the dance instructor who has been giving free line dance and fan dance lessons to seniors for six years now.
Yong Sow Wan, 90, believes there is no special diet for longevity.
“I eat normal meals, nothing extravagant. However, I skip char kway teow and other greasy foods, and consume lots of fruits and vegetables,” says the former mechanic and one-time shopkeeper.
“In my younger days, I ate very little as I had to make ends meet. Perhaps that was a blessing in disguise – I did not overindulge in unhealthy food.”
Yong, who has nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren, is generally healthy except for hypertension, which he takes medication for.
For vitality, he started taking ginseng pills when he was 70 and continues to pop one capsule a day.
His friend Albert Toh, a former banker, raves about noodles and consumes them daily instead of rice.
Toh, who jokes that he is “only 83”, is fine with instant noodles, but discards the seasoning packed with each packet. Instead, after boiling the noodles, he drains off the water and tosses the noodles with oyster sauce.
To keep healthy, one should not overeat and have enough sleep, he says. “Eat till you’re 70% full, and take a daily dose of multi-vitamins.”
Toh jokes that he once asked his barber for a discount for being a good customer. Instead, he was told, “You have much hair. Your peers who come here are bald.”
Friends, too, keep him in good spirits. “I seldom stay home. I join friends for mahjong, singing sessions and even tai chi,” he adds.
Having friends is just one part of the longevity equation. You have to love yourself and look after yourself, too, Emily Sia believes.
“That’s one way of staying healthy in old age. And you need to rest when your body tells you to,” adds Sia, 75, who subscribes to eating moderately, being easy-going and not taking things too seriously.
She keeps on her toes with dance activities, and joins a group of 50 women for an hour of tai chi every week. She’s especially proud that she still has her own set of teeth – which she puts to good use munching maize, almonds and chocolates.
Lau Swee Yee, 84, still helps out with household chores to keep busy. “Why not if you’ve nothing to do at home?” she says.
She loves bittergourd – “it’s good for detoxing” – and sometimes blends carrot, cucumber and bittergourd together for a health drink.
In her younger days, Lau was a midwife.
“I had delivered about 50 babies before my son took down my advertisement board. He was in Form Five then and was concerned about the days when I ‘disappeared’ for hours.”
In those days, there were no handphones, and her family members sometimes had no inkling of her whereabouts when she went off to deliver babies.
The fee then was RM30, “if you’re lucky” she says. “There were times when I did it for free because the families were poor.”
Lau remembers that on one birthday when she was in her 30s, she was summoned to help bathe a corpse! Putting superstition aside, she did so, out of compassion for the family.
She recently discovered that she has hypertension and has since been on medication. To keep active, she goes line dancing and is involved in senior club and church activities.
“I’ve just taken up balloon sculpting. I can make a balloon doggie and I’m practising the steps to make a rabbit and giraffe,” she says.
Former physical education lecturer and sports manager Leo Leslie Armstrong believes it is crucial to have a positive mental attitude.
“One can’t be grumpy. We should live and let live, and try not to compare ourselves with others.”
Armstrong, 70, aspires towards a healthy lifestyle and dislikes being sedentary.
“We should not laze in front of the computer or be a couch potato. Keep active, whether it’s gardening, jogging or just doing stretching exercises,” says the recently-elected president of YMCA KL, who spends about 30 minutes on his bicycle every other day.
Health supplements can do wonders for the body, claims Armstrong, who takes five or more such tablets a day.
He takes Coenzyme Q10 to strengthen his heart muscles, as well as vitamin E and C, glucosamine and calcium, garlic and fish oil capsules.
All these are gulped down with lots of water.
“Drink at least one litre a day. Water is life. And no fizzy drinks, unless you really need it.”
Armstrong likes oats, bread, eggs and imported blueberry yoghurt for breakfast. He enjoys steamed salmon with bread or meat with rice.
Silver-haired Y.K. Chan, 84, has no qualms about “taking everything” to stay healthy. He does not subscribe to food supplements and thinks daily exercise – morning walks in his garden – is more important to stay fit and sprightly.
He loves the occasional roast duck and pork, but stays away from fatty foods, preferring home-cooked meals by his wife, who is 77.
Chan, formerly a clerk, was diagnosed with hypertension at 50, but is otherwise healthy. He likes to look good – for his self-esteem, he adds, and when meeting friends.
K. Sri Nivasan, 76, likes yoghurt with rice. Lentils (parapu) are also part of the daily diet of this barber, who is on medication for hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol. He started cutting hair at the age of 16 and is now semi-retired.
“I know I have to take care of what I eat.” Now he keeps to wholemeal bread, tosai and iddli.
Nivasan says his hands started shaking recently, so he now usually leaves his staff to attend to customers.
“You write this – I don’t want to take their money and not give a good hair cut,” he adds, with a tinge of pride.
For seniors like him and Chan, taking pride in themselves certainly has a hand in healthy longevity.
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