A gym for over 55s

Aspire55 offers social, health and care services, but its members visit the clubhouse only for its gym and activities

Retiree Jenni Tan, 61, never imagined that she would be dragon- boating or rock-climbing in her 60s.

Fellow retiree Sophie Kho, 64, used to declare herself "allergic to exercise".

But thanks to Aspire55, which markets itself as Asia's first "virtual retirement village", both of them have been able to step out of their comfort zones.

Like retirement villages, Aspire55 offers social, health and care services, but it is more of a clubhouse than a village - its members do not make Aspire55 their new home, instead heading there only for activities.

Officially launched in 2014, Aspire55 is co-founded by entrepreneurs Janice Chia, 37, and Loke Yiing Ching, 43.

The clubhouse in Commonwealth Lane comprises a 900 sq ft indoor space with floor-to-ceiling windows and a 100 sq ft balcony and garden growing basil, sunflowers, chillies, pomegranate and pineapples in well-tended pots.

The indoor space houses nine pieces of senior-friendly gym equipment specially imported from Finland. The machines use an air-pressure system that is gentler on muscles and joints.

Smart cards ensure that equipment settings adjust automatically to the user and every member's performance on a machine is tracked by software, so trainers can then customise each person's regimen.

Beyond the equipment and technologies, Aspire55 members say what makes the gym different from others is its environment and the caring attitude of the trainers.

Some of the Aspire55 members live in condominiums and are members of country clubs, but shun the gyms located there.

"There's no pull factor for me to exercise in those gyms no matter how good their equipment is because I will be exercising alone," says Ms Kho.

Another club member, Ms Annabella Sim, 65, says: "We're not interested in the quantity of gym equipment either. The gym may be big, but who's teaching you?"

  • Where seniors can go

  • Aspire55

    What: Billing itself as Asia's first "virtual retirement village", Aspire55 offers seniors the opportunity to exercise and socialise at a clubhouse in Commonwealth.

    Where: 08-34 One Commonwealth, 1 Commonwealth Lane

    Info: Call 6473-6993

    North West SwimSafer Club for Seniors

    What: The first of the North West SwimSafer Clubs for Seniors was launched in 2014. As of February last year, there were eight such clubs across Bukit Panjang, Yishun, Bukit Timah and Woodlands. Besides equipping seniors with basic swimming and water-survival skills, the clubs are places for them to exercise regularly and socialise. The swim clubs are run by the North West Community Development Council.

    Where: Various locations

    Info: E-mail Elise_Phang@pa.gov.sg

    AWWA Rehab & Day Care Centre

    What: On weekdays from 4 to 7pm, the AWWA (Asian Women's Welfare Association) Rehab & Day Care Centre's gym is open to members of the public.

    Where: Block 126, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3, 01-1929

    Info: Call 6511-6790

    ActiveSG Inclusive Gym @ Enabling Village

    What: Located within the Enabling Village - the first community space here dedicated to integrating people with disabilities into society - the ActiveSG Inclusive Gym welcomes not only those with disabilities, but also the able-bodied and senior citizens.

    The Enabling Village has outdoor fitness corners that are open to the public. The equipment at these fitness corners is suitable for use by the elderly.

    The Village, a five-minute walk from Redhill MRT station, was developed by the Ministry of Social and Family Development and SG Enable, an agency that helps people with disabilities.

    Where: Enabling Village, 20 Lengkok Bahru, 01-05

    Info: Call 6265-1292

    Sundays @ The Park

    What: Started in 2013, Sundays @ The Park is a programme initiated by the Health Promotion Board. Targeted at both young and old, the programme has a variety of instructor-led workouts held at parks across Singapore.

    Where: Various locations

    Info: tinyurl.com/j6xqs4k

    Exercise video

    What: Seniors can watch the video, 7 Easy Exercises To An Active Lifestyle. Produced by the Health Promotion Board, the 30-minute exercise video features seven exercises developed with the help of physiotherapists.

    The exercises do not require special equipment and seniors can do them at home and at their own pace and time.

    Info: tinyurl.com/zvr6777

    Bryna Sim

After trying out commercial gyms, some of them found that the trainers there are not interested in teaching "aunties" to use the equipment.

At the clubhouse, members are encouraged to exercise together in group sessions and interaction among them is facilitated by trainers, who not only advise them on exercises, but also give them quarterly progress updates.

The club's event and fitness facilitator, Mr Norman Koh, 28, is an "auntie killer", says Ms Chia, using the local colloquialism for a man who knows how to charm older women.

He holds a degree in Sport Science and Management from Nanyang Technological University and joined Aspire55 full-time last year.

He is in a WhatsApp chat group with some of the members and organises events for them beyond the exercise sessions.

Some of the activities that members have taken part in include dragon-boating and taking on the aerial obstacle course and "flying fox" at Sentosa's MegaZip Adventure Park.

"I would not have done these things on my own, especially as they are new to me," says Madam Tan.

"But when I see my peers signing up, I tell myself, 'If they can, of course I can too.'"

The sense of community and belonging among the members is enhanced with post-workout meals and regular pot-luck sessions organised by the club.

Ms Kho says: "This place is not your typical money-making enterprise. Through all that they do, I feel that I really belong here."

Aspire55 started with just three members and now has about 80 Gold members who are in their 50s to 80s. These members exercise at the clubhouse twice a week and pay $1,800 a year for their membership.

It has another 1,500 Silver members, who pay a one-time sum of $50 for lifetime membership.Silver members get access to events at special prices and a one-time free workout session trial.

Ms Chia says the club has yet to break even and estimates that it will take a few more years before it becomes profitable.

She, her parents and Ms Loke have ploughed several hundred thousand dollars into the business, simply because they saw a need for this.

"There isn't a fun gym here for older people where they can exercise and socialise at the same time. We felt this could benefit this age group," says Ms Loke.

Ms Chia says the Gold members have had 100 per cent membership renewal and attendance since the club started.

She hopes to continue to grow this club and will make plans for another clubhouse when the membership number approaches 200.

Since Aspire55's launch, she has also received inquiries from Australia, China and Malaysia about her business model.

"Our clubhouse is like our members' own home," says Ms Chia.

"Here, we want to make our members laugh. We believe in creating purpose and happy moments in their lives."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 01, 2017, with the headline A gym for over 55s. Subscribe