KUALA LUMPUR: Statistics show that Malaysia is fast approaching an ageing nation status. As the senior population grows, the need to stay fit and active through healthy exercise increases immensely.
To provide the elderly with a safe means of maintaining their health, Nicholas Wee Shen Ming, 27, established Activ50s, Malaysia’s first active ageing gym in March this year.
Activ50s is not like any ordinary neighbourhood gym but is instead specifically designed and staffed to cater to senior citizens.
Speaking to FMT, Wee explained that he was inspired to open a gymnasium catering to seniors after a visit to Singapore. He saw Singapore’s multiple facilities designed to be senior-friendly.
The former professional footballer said, “Our country is going to become an ageing nation in a few years’ time but there’s a lack of infrastructure for the elderly.”
He believes Malaysians are generally health conscious, but local cuisine and lack of education on exercise confounds matters.
“They know exercise is good, but they do not know which exercise is actually best for them.”
While senior citizens in Malaysia do visit the park to do simple cardiovascular exercises, it is not enough.
Muscle strength is needed to do everyday activities and if nothing is done to maintain it, muscle loss is inevitable.
The goal of Activ50s is to help seniors keep up their muscle strength without putting them at risk of injury.
Stepping into Activ50s, you will immediately notice that the exercise machines and equipment are unlike what you find in a typical gym.
Activ50s has technologically-advanced equipment by Finnish company HUR, which uses air pressure rather than solid weights to avoid stressing joints and connective tissues.
“It’s safer for the joints and muscles when you exercise. We can make increments of 100g using the HUR machines which is something normal metal weight stacking machines cannot do.”
Wee explains, “500g for young people is nothing. We don’t feel the difference but for someone very weak, say an 80 or 90-year-old, even 100g is a victory.”
“The machines in a normal gym are not suitable for very frail, weak seniors,” he says.
In Activ50s, the trainers are certified physiotherapists who guide seniors in their exercise.
A Smart Touch system assists seniors by digitally recording the resistance and seating adjustments during their exercise.
“They do not have to remember what they did the last time,” said Wee, explaining that the wristband does all the work for them.
But just because these machines are especially for seniors does not mean that younger people are unable to use them.
The maximum loads of these machines can be very high, so athlete training facilities in Europe apparently make extensive use of them.
It is not easy, Wee said, to convince the elderly that they too have a place in a gym alongside younger people.
“The stereotype thinking is that, ‘I don’t want to go to the gym because I might get injured.’”
“We are educating them that coming here and doing their strength training in an environment as safe as possible is actually more beneficial than just doing their normal walks.”
Seniors who decide to use Activ50s’ services can sign up for the strength training course which has groups of 10 members exercising together.
They will not only use the exercise machines but also perform floor workouts which are rotated weekly to focus on different body parts.
Activ50s currently has about 50 members with ages ranging from early 40s to the oldest at 86.
Uniquely, Activ50s does not offer a monthly membership but rather charges by sessions.
A standard package has ten sessions and members are encouraged to come in twice or thrice a week to work out.
“We don’t recommend daily workouts as they are elderly. They need more time to recover. To ask them to come every day is a bit demanding,” said Wee.
After the ten sessions are completed, members can choose to continue or take a break.
Wee learnt that Malaysian seniors have a fondness for travel, so it would be difficult to charge monthly fees if members go travelling every other month.
“So, if they’re finished and want to go on a holiday, they can and they can come back when they’re ready.”
Workouts in Activ50s are appointment-based and if you prefer to have a one-on-one session instead, it will be scheduled accordingly to avoid clashing with the group sessions.
Ten group workout sessions cost RM199 whereas ten personal training sessions cost RM1199.
Asked what the best part of his work is, Wee said, “It is to see an elderly person coming in, unable to walk without the aid of a walking stick and after one or two months, they are able to walk unaided.”
Strength training is something that any elderly person needs to stay active and independent as long as possible, said Wee.
“As they grow old, a lot of elderly people don’t want to burden their kids…but sometimes it’s unavoidable.”
“With strength training, constant exercise and a good, healthy lifestyle, you can prolong your independence as long as possible.”
6-3-2, 2nd Floor
Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad 3
60000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Operating hours: 9am-6pm daily (closed on Sundays)
Contact number: 03-7731 3195/018-313 5050