Gyms for seniors keep the aging population in shape

Gyms for seniors keep the aging population in shape

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

A gym for elderly citizens is popular in Kangjian Subdistrict, Xuhui.

The daily routine of 72-year-old Xia Ping, a resident in Xuhui District, doesn’t include line dancing like most of her peers. Instead, she visits a gym which is a five-minute walk from where she lives.

It’s common for young people to work out at gyms. But this gym in Kangjian Subdistrict in Xuhui presents a different scene. All of the members here are above age 55. Neither white-haired nor lethargic, they are energetic and enjoy their fitness time a great deal.

Senior-friendly gyms are sprouting up across Shanghai. They are designed and geared toward the physical needs of those above 55 and have mostly been built in local communities.

The indoor gym covering more than 170 square meters features a bright, pleasant, homely and cozy environment.

Opened in June 2019, it serves around 10 residential complexes. The gym only serves elderly citizens above 55.

With a monthly pass of 99 yuan (US$15.23), people can try a number of equipment specifically tailored to the fitness needs of seniors.

“For example, the treadmill has a slower starting speed, and its top speed is pretty modest,” said Yu Chenjie, a staffer with Newbody Lohas, the gym’s operator. “In addition, it has a much longer handle and a safety lock which hooks onto users’ bodies.”

“If the lock disconnects, the machine will stop automatically to prevent seniors from falling,” she said.

Gyms for seniors keep the aging population in shape

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Elderly residents enjoy exercising at the gym.

Gyms for seniors keep the aging population in shape

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Xia Ping works on the treadmill at the gym.

Another rhythmic bed can prevent and improve hypoxia, heart disease and diabetes, lower the risk of heart attack and treat pulmonary hypertension.

An isokinetic exercise device can prevent loss of cognitive function and lower risk of obesity, senile dementia and cardiovascular disease.

“I have used all of the equipment here and have seen noticeable changes in my body and health,” said Xia, who has been visiting the gym every day since September of last year.

She spends one and a half to two hours at the gym daily.

“I had poor sleep in the past, but the rhythmic bed has significantly improved my sleep quality,” she said. “I fall asleep quickly even if I wake up at midnight.”

“I used to rely on acupuncture and moxibustion, a form of therapy common in traditional Chinese medicine, due to lower back problems, but after exercising here, I have not had acupuncture therapy for more than six months,” said Xia.

She used to take pills to prevent bone mass loss. Through resistance training at the gym, she surprisingly found that her bone mass increased, even if she stopped taking medicine.

“It is a magical and surprising delight,” said Xia.

A lot of activities, such as a New Year’s celebration gala, are held at the gym, with Xia serving as the host.

“I meet many retired teachers here, and we are good friends now,” said Xia, a former English teacher. “We encourage each other and share our exercise experiences. The gym gives me a strong sense of happiness and progress.”

“I feel dull and uneasy if I don’t come here for a day, and I have introduced many friends here,” she added. “It is a good platform and gateway.”

The gym receives about 150 seniors daily. The oldest is 94 years old. Members aged between 65 and 75 make up 45 percent of the exercise community.

At the end of July, Kangjian Subdistrict had 27,030 residents above 60 years old with Shanghai residence registration accounting for 34.54 percent of its permanent residents.

Among them, 5,271 were aged above 80, and 13 were centenarians.

Gyms for seniors keep the aging population in shape

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Mi Minhua exercises at the gym.

“Some of these machines also help prevent cognitive disorder and improve coordination among the elderly,” said gym operator Yu, “such as a machine simulating rope skipping.

“All users at the gym are given a test when they visit. Their digital health record is kept,” she said. “Suggestions about different exercises are given based on their health conditions.”

Retiree Mi Minhua is a frequent visitor. She has visited the gym five to six times weekly since its opening.

She runs on the treadmill for 20 to 30 minutes each time and also does some exercises to strengthen her back and prevent shoulder pain.

“I used to run on the treadmill at home, but my neighbors complained that it was too noisy,” said Mi. “I suffer from a cervical vertebra problem and shoulder pain, and physical therapy is expensive.”

“My symptoms are significantly relieved by exercising here, and it saves money, as an annual pass costs just 1,088 yuan,” Mi said.

“The gym is very popular now, with some seniors even living in Minhang District coming here,” she said proudly. “I have made many friends here.”

This kind of gym, officially called a sports and health home for the elderly, is a community-based fitness venue with multiple functions, according to the Shanghai Administration of Sports.

Gyms for seniors keep the aging population in shape

Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Seniors enjoy exercise at the gym.

It provides one-stop sports and health services such as health testing, guidance on scientific exercises, chronic disease sports intervention, and sports rehabilitation training to seniors by incorporating sports, senior care and health public service resources.

By 2023, there are at least 70 such gyms planned in Shanghai, according to the city’s blueprint.

They will enhance community-based sports, fitness and senior care services, the administration said.

The Nanjing Road E. gym for elderly residents in downtown Huangpu District has 54 members.

Covering about 100 square meters, it is filled with various types of fitness equipment.

Ling Meijun, 66, stays in good shape.

She does her morning exercise almost every day. But she used to do them outdoor.

“It is hot in summer and cold in winter,” said Ling. “The indoor environment is a delight.”

Before doing her exercises, Ling has her blood pressure and heart rate measured.

“It helps me exercise more scientifically,” she added.

Auntie Ji, a former doctor, is warmhearted.

She always recommends seniors exercises that suit them.

The gym is located next to a daycare center and a canteen for elderly residents, creating a convenient “15-minute community life circle.”

“It is not only a sports training space, but also a social platform, particularly for seniors living alone,” said Ji.

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