Chinese seniors strengthen bodies and friendships at Wang YMCA
By Ling-Mei Wong
Walking was a trial for Yong Lin, 76. After a knee replacement and back surgery, he frequently had swollen legs and difficulty moving.
Today, Lin walks faster than all his friends and can extend both knees completely. “Every day, I do more than an hour of exercise,” he said.
Lin’s secret was the Get Fit, Stay Fit for Life program at the Wang YMCA of Chinatown. Since 2006, Chinatown seniors gather for six months of group exercise classes, nutrition workshops and social activities.
“They love this place because their body and health are improving,” said Richard Chin, director of community development for the Wang YMCA of Chinatown. “Those who stay six months all claim they feel so much better.”
The Tufts Health Plan Foundation awarded the YMCA of Greater Boston a two-year, $100,000 grant for the Get Fit, Stay Fit for Life program. The Wang YMCA and the West Roxbury YMCA will benefit from the grant, which makes the program free to participants.
“I lost 20 pounds and my diabetes is under control,” said Tai Hai Wong, 70. “Now I only have to get a checkup every six months, instead of every month.”
At the start of each session, each of the 50 participants has their weight and body mass index taken and undergoes a physiological survey. They receive a free six-month membership with the requirement of working out three days a week and attending a weekly nutritional workshop. At the end of six months, participants are measured again to chart their progress.
“My daughter said I looked great,” Wong said, who urged her friends and sister to join her. She exercises on the treadmill and rowing machine at the Y every day.
Along with getting in shape, participants bond through the program. “There were many widowed men and women, who would stay home after it got dark,” Chin said. “They make friends and go to dim sum together after class.”
The program is open to Chinese seniors older than 60 who have chronic illnesses. “For the 50 people in each session, 80 percent have never worked out before,” Chin said. “They work with counselors and instructors who speak their language. The YMCA staff are people who understand their life and cultural situation. We make it a welcoming and friendly environment.”
Kit Wong, program coordinator at the Wang YMCA, speaks Toisanese, Cantonese and Mandarin. At 65, she helps participants feel welcome and tracks their progress.
“I feel encouraged to exercise as there are participants in their 80s and 90s,” Kit Wong said. “If they don’t do it, they feel like something’s missing.”
The program has a 60 to 70 percent retention rate, with many graduates continuing their Y memberships. While most insurance companies cover gym memberships, Lin pays for it himself. “We don’t have anything else to do but stay home and watch TV,” he said. “You must persist. If you don’t, you will get sick.”
Lin’s success has boosted his self-esteem and enabled him to enjoy life more. After he works out, he goes to the Teo Chew Association of New England on Knapp Street for tea and men’s talk.
“I don’t need to persuade my friends to join,” Lin said. “They can see how strong I am.”
This post is also available in: Chinese