Fitness: One is never too old to be active

Mok Ying Ren (pictured) was inspired by his medical teacher and mentor Prof Low’s life philosophy, shaped by the latter’s experience with the outdoors and active lifestyle.
Mok Ying Ren (pictured) was inspired by his medical teacher and mentor Prof Low’s life philosophy, shaped by the latter’s experience with the outdoors and active lifestyle.PHOTO: ONEATHLETE
A senior citizen working out on an exercise machine.
A senior citizen working out on an exercise machine.PHOTO: ST FILE

Prof Low Cheng Hock recalls how the outdoors became a part of his life

I still meet my friends from school frequently for walks together. While we talk about anything and everything under the sun, most of our conversations revolve around nostalgic memories of our younger days spent outdoors.

My vivid memories are often of sports, or just being out in the great outdoors. I could describe myself as a jack of all trades because I would take on any sport, even though I was never quite proficient in any. It remains a fond part of my memory that I'm glad to share with readers of our #RunWithMok column.

MEMORIES OF ENJOYING LIFE

Running or just merely being outdoors has always been a big part of my life. During my time in primary school, our teacher would bring us running at 5.30am. Unfortunately, children nowadays are so busy studying that they no longer have time for such simple "pleasures".

Then, running was voluntary and, judging from the turnout, we all simply enjoyed it. In fact, our teacher and his wife were inspirational figures who led by example. They coached us to run, motivated us to train, and rallied us to do our part for society and raise funds for charity (through running, of course).

I was an avid sports fan. I had an eye for the graceful footwork of badminton and also enjoyed the rigours of a heart-thumping football match. I also cycled to Malaysia with my cycling kakis.

In fact, the bicycle was my choice of commute during medical school. I started exercising and playing sports to keep fit, but the leisure and pleasure of good company kept me going. The social undertones of sports took some (not all) pressure off me, and allowed me to immerse myself into whatever sports I had chosen as my poison.

MEMORIES OF ADVENTURES

In my younger days, I liked sailing and would sail at the waters off West Coast Park with my medical-school classmates. I remember Dr Ben Tan, who introduced the sport to me and taught me the basics. On one such voyage, our rowing boat (with a make-up sail) capsized near Pulau Bukom, at a particularly high-traffic part in the middle of nowhere. But being young, we were fearless and just calmly floated in the choppy waters, until rescue came some 30 minutes later.

Some years ago, I visited an old friend who was a surgeon-turned-missionary and ran a rural hospital at a dizzying altitude 5,000 feet up in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. During this "holiday", I helped out at the hospital, and treated a Masai patient with several wounds, some of which needed surgery. I later found out that he had wrestled with a lion that had attacked his cattle. Fortunately, he recovered well enough to return to his hometown up in the mountains.

It was a blessing in disguise because I got to accompany this gentleman on an unforgettable, long and scenic hike through some of the most breathtaking views Mother Earth can offer.

I'm glad I scaled Mount Kinabalu with a group of young doctors, as the experience came in handy too. Being able to even conquer such challenging terrain at my age was a blessing that allowed me to meet fellow explorers who, more often than not, would have adventurous stories to share.

I used to tackle the trails at Bukit Timah, starting from the dairy farm side and leading up to the summit. On a good day, this would give me about an hour or so to catch up with my friends. Till today, I still swim, walk and hike whenever possible.

MEMORIES OF RUNNING

In my years as a doctor, I remember vividly there was once a runner who conquered a marathon three months after completing his chemotherapy therapy for leukaemia. This despite finishing last, and in visible pain as he crossed that finish line. He did his level best and won his race. He taught me that winning is not always about coming in first, and we can't be first all the time. Finishing the race is also winning it. It's just as important.

The story of Rick (who suffers from cerebral palsy) and his "triathlon" dad, Dick Hoyt, is equally inspiring. To fulfil his son's wishes, Dick completed a triathlon, his first, while towing Rick along with him. A race completed to the best of his own abilities, no less, and the pair were later inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame in 2008.

In both cases, neither age nor physical ability limited them. My experience and belief have shown me that there is no right age, but a correct mentality for anything and everything. Every age is the right age, in its own way. Whether one chooses to run, jog or walk, as long as you enjoy your race leisurely and complete, or compete, to the best of your abilities, that's what matters.

So you can see how running, sports and the great outdoors can be physically beneficial, as well as memorable in many ways. Don't worry about getting old; worry about thinking old. Regardless of age, the outdoors hold much promise for you and for me.

•Professor Low Cheng Hock, 73, an emeritus consultant for general surgery, leads an active lifestyle and has inspired many young medical students and professionals like Mok Ying Ren. Prof Low was speaking to RunONE's Mok and Jed Senthil.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 09, 2018, with the headline 'Back in the days...'. Print Edition | Subscribe