SINGAPORE — Once or twice a week, Madam Lau Soon Siang, 97, walks a block to the Care Corner Senior Activity Centre at Blk 62B Toa Payoh for gym sessions. She taps a card on the exercise machines, then embarks on a gentle workout with weights or resistance adjusted to her physical abilities. A trainer motivates her by telling her she would gain more strength to do chores such as cooking and washing of dishes.
Before she started on the strength-training programme called Gym Tonic in September last year, Mdm Lau could not walk two housing blocks without taking a break. She had also slipped on a banana peel and hurt her back only a few months ago.
“Now I even know how to go to Ang Mo Kio,” she told TODAY.
Launched in 2015 by the Lien Foundation, Gym Tonic – developed with health technology company PulseSync – was deployed mainly at nursing homes and senior care centres.
On Tuesday (Dec 12), the philanthropic foundation said it would extend the programme to members of the public for a fee at eight of its 27 sites. Those who are 55 years old and above and who wish to reverse a “pre-frail” condition like poor grip strength or slow walking speed may sign up.
From now until Feb 14, up to 300 seniors aged 65 and above in the community will get to try Gym Tonic out for free. The trial will last at least three months and start in the first quarter of next year at four locations in Bishan, Toa Payoh, Kovan and Sengkang. They may register their interest at www.gymtonic.sg/signup.
More than 1,400 seniors are expected to benefit from Gym Tonic’s expansion into the community.
Lien Foundation plans to add another five sites in the heartlands next year.
By 2019, it aims to benefit about 4,500 seniors in nursing homes, eldercare facility and the community at 32 locations.
Two of the eight centres open to the community – the ActiveSG Gym at Our Tampines Hub and Methodist Welfare Services Senior Activity Centre in Fernvale – are charging just under S$60 for the three-month programme during off-peak hours.
Other sites charge up to S$230 for three months, or S$77 a month. They are the Care Corner Senior Activity Centre at Blk 62B Toa Payoh, St Hilda’s Community Services, Peacehaven nursing home, Touch Community Wellness Hub in Ang Mo Kio, and Bishan Community Club.
At Man Fut Tong-Ho Yuen Hoe Senior Care Centre, located at a temple in Woodlands, seniors can join if they give a donation.
Lien Foundation has spent S$3.52 million on Gym Tonic so far. Its chief executive Lee Poh Wah said physical decline can be reversed with strength training, which is integral to preventive care, treatment and the rehabilitation of seniors.
The foundation’s efforts are among recent initiatives to tackle frailty in the ageing population. Singapore is estimated to have about 45,000 frail and 313,000 pre-frail seniors.
In August, the National University Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine announced a programme adapted from Japan to delay dementia and frailty among seniors in western Singapore.
The Healthy Ageing Promotion Programme For You programme aims to reach more than 1,000 seniors in the next two years.
In September, a test to gauge frailty targeted at seniors in north-eastern Singapore was announced. Developed by experts at the Singapore General Hospital and Sengkang General Hospital, the IPPT for Seniors aims to reach out to at least 2,000 individuals aged 55 and above over the next three years.
Lien Foundation commissioned a study of 396 seniors who were put on Gym Tonic for three months in April, and found that more than one in two participants at senior care centres who were frail progressed to a pre-frail state. Instead of showing three or more indicators of frailty, they now showed one or two signs of frailty.
A quarter improved from a pre-frail state to “robust”. One of them was Mr Huang Kee Siang, 67. The former carpenter, who used to experience chronic pain, said: “At the hospital, I even found it hard to move from the seat at the waiting area to the consultation room. At home, I was washing my clothes by stepping on them because I had no strength on my arms.”
Aside from doing chores, he now finds it easier clean his feet while he bathes and can put on trousers without support.
Those who showed the most improvements in the study were those aged about 85, said Mr Ken Tan, managing director of PulseSync.
“A lot of elderly in the nursing homes and care centre are in a dormant state. Nobody really bothers exercising their muscles. But once they exercise, we see 20, 40 per cent jumps (in muscle strength),” said Mr Tan.