By Ling-Mei Wong
Irene Deng, 68, did not like going out. A car accident in 2010 broke her back and arms, forcing her to use a cane for walking. With pain keeping her indoors, her physical therapist recommended she try hydrotherapy. A friend directed her to the Wang YMCA of Chinatown, which has its own swimming pool.
Today, Deng walks confidently without a cane, thanks to a six-month Senior Strength and Movement (SSAM) Program. Designed for individuals over 60, it introduces resistance training to help improve bone density and combat their risk for falls. The program is free through an Asian Health Initiative grant from Tufts Medical Center, with participants required to exercise at least three times a week.
“I really saw improvement in my body with more strength,” said Shuying Chan, 66. “While it started out as mandatory exercise, once you start working out regularly, you get into it and really enjoy it.”
Chan and Deng began with individual instruction on weight machines from Cantonese-speaking trainer Kit Ho. The seniors also learned how to stretch, got into the swimming pool and attended health workshops each Friday. A total of 47 Chinese seniors will graduate from the SSAM program on June 27.
“Our trainer is so good and patient with us old folks,” Deng said. Both she and Chan will continue their Y memberships after graduation and even recruited five friends to join them.
Chan saw such marked improvement that he inspired his son to work out every day. “Before, I had slightly higher blood pressure,” he said. “Now I have normal blood pressure. I lost some weight, as I shed fat and gained muscle.”
Exercise had other unexpected benefits for Chan. “Before I started working out, I was allergic to soy and beansprouts,” he said. “Now I can eat anything and not have allergies, as my body improved.”
The Chinatown location of the Wang YMCA makes it a welcoming place for Chinese seniors to make new friends.
“We are old people with our kids all grown up now,” Chan said. “If we didn’t work out, we’d just sit at home all day. Now that we get more physical activity, we get out, move and feel better.”
Deng was grateful to find other seniors like her. “I belong here,” she said. “Elsewhere, I don’t know anyone. … It’s so good to get out.”
To sign up for the next six-month SSAM cycle starting July 1, interested individuals can call Wang YMCA program coordinator Kit Wong at (617) 426-2237 x 231 or stop by the front desk before June 25.
This post is also available in: Chinese