SINGAPORE - Slipping on a puddle of water and hurting her hips left 97-year-old Lau Soon Siang physically very weak and in pain last year.
After 12 weeks of strength training, however, the housewife has regained her muscle strength and balance. She can now resume her daily walks and go to the coffee shop to chat with friends.
More people can benefit from Gym Tonic - the strength training for seniors aged 55 or older that helped Madam Lau - when the programme is extended to the public at eight locations by next year, the Lien Foundation announced on Tuesday (Dec 12). The programme has been available to only residents in nursing homes and eldercare centres.
The public can go to ActiveSG Gym@Our Tampines Hub, Care Corner Senior Activity Centre (62B Toa Payoh), Methodist Welfare Services Senior Activity Centre (Fernvale) and St Hilda's Community Services, which will open this year, and Touch Community Wellness Hub and Bishan Community Club next year. Two other locations that have already set up Gym Tonic will be open to the public too - Man Fut Tong-Hoe Yuen Hoe Senior Care Centre next year and Peacehaven Community Hub this year.
The Lien Foundation will also select 300 seniors aged 65 and above for free Gym Tonic trials.
Joining fees vary from centre to centre and range from less than $10 to $50 a month. Fees for assessment of physical conditions range from $30 to $80.
The programme consists of 12 weeks of strength training for seniors using air-powered equipment from Finland that is gentler on the joints. There are also nutrition talks, and pre-workout health assessments that track seniors' progress.
The seniors can tap a card on the exercise equipment, which will adjust automatically to accommodate their individual fitness levels. This data is then stored in a digital cloud for them to look back on.
Equipment tailored for the elderly
Gym Tonic is an evidence-based, senior-friendly strength-training programme that improves the functional abilities of the elderly with advanced equipment and software.
PNEUMATIC MACHINES - Gym Tonic uses six air-powered exercise machines from Finland. These focus on strengthening the seniors’ core muscle groups, namely their leg, abdomen, chest, abduction, shoulder and upper body muscles. Being pneumatic, the equipment is gentler on the joints, and more suited for the elderly who are weaker.
GRADUAL WEIGHTS - There are also smaller resistance weights, from zero resistance to 100g, 200g and so on, whereas commercial gyms usually have weights in kilograms. The air-powered resistance can thus be tailored to the seniors’ needs more gradually.
SOFTWARE-BASED SYSTEM - The gym also collects large troves of data, allowing the seniors to motivate themselves by checking on their progress, down to the number of repetitions of exercises they have done. Their progress data is all stored on a digital cloud. The seniors simply use one radio frequency identification (RFID) card, which they tap on equipment. The equipment will then tailor itself to the user’s preference, adjusting the power according to their progress and saved data from previous workouts.
The Gym Tonic programme will be offered as a free trial to 300 seniors aged 65 or older. Interested seniors can sign up here.
The 30-minute sessions, conducted twice a week, aim to increase seniors' muscle mass and make them less frail or prone to frailty.
Frailty, as measured by the Fried frailty criteria, sees seniors in three categories: frail, pre-frail and robust. Indicators of frailty include unintentional weight loss, weakness, exhaustion, slow walking speed and low physical activity. Pre-frail seniors have two or three of those symptoms while robust seniors have none.
After the three-month programme, seniors can stay on for weekly maintenance sessions, just like Madam Lau has been doing for the past five months.
"Initially, I had no idea at all what the odd and new equipment I saw in the gym was for. But I just chose to follow my friends who did group gym sessions there and enjoyed it," she said at a press briefing in Care Corner Senior Activity Centre (62B Toa Payoh) on Tuesday.
"The pain in my hips and legs has gone, and I can fit into the pants I'm wearing today even though I struggled to put them on before," she added.
A study by researchers from the National University of Singapore's Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine showed that half the elderly in Singapore are frail - and frailty comes with risks of depression, cognitive impairment, poor physical functions and premature death.
A study in April this year of 396 seniors who went through Gym Tonic showed that close to half of them who were frail managed to improve, reversing their frailty or pre-frailty.
"We tend to assume that weakness and sickness is a normal and irreversible part of old age, but Gym Tonic is here to prove that something can be done about it," said Mr Ken Tan, managing director of PulseSync, the IT company that helped structure Gym Tonic.
Around 2,000 seniors have been actively using the equipment in 21 nursing homes and eldercare centres since Gym Tonic started in 2015. By 2019, about 4,500 seniors will have access to such machines.
The eight locations open to the public will target 1,400 new users.