Ann Shah’s lithe and toned physique belies her age. “I can only reveal that I’m 65 plus,” she chuckles. Before the lockdown was announced, Shah would regularly hit the gym, go on long walks and not miss a day of exercise. The enthusiasm took a beating under isolation when days stretched into weeks and months. Being hunkered down takes a toll, she admits. “Initially, I began to feel sick and looked haggard. I knew I had to push myself out of this misery.” With no access to the gym, Shah motivated herself to look up online workout routines, pre-recorded videos or livestreams aimed at replicating the experience of being in a fitness class with a trainer. “When I found out that fitness instructor Avinash Mansukhani, who runs an Instagram account called Fight the Sunrise, has introduced workouts aimed at senior citizens, I followed him. Now, I also follow the virtual workouts by yoga instructor Anshuka Parwani and trainer Yasmin Karachiwala.” This has helped her get into a rhythm, she thinks. Shah’s at-home sweat set is now complete with milk cartons, water bottles and heavy books that double up as dumbbells. Every morning, she heads up to the terrace with her phone and does her sets.
A survey conducted by Enormous Brands, an independent advertising agency, revealed an increase in adoption of digital technology by the aged during the lockdown. The web-based survey took feedback from 3,737 respondents in cities, including Delhi-NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Pune and Ahmedabad. According to the United Nations, the share of older persons (aged 60 or above) in India is projected to increase to nearly 20 per cent of the population by 2050. Sensing the opportunity, HealthifyMe, a health and fitness app, recently launched HealthifyStudio to offer live workout sessions catering to seniors. Similarly, Cure.fit has also created fitness content for the elderly.
Manan Chandan, associate director of new initiatives at HealthifyMe, says there is a section in the 60-plus age group that wants to take charge of their fitness needs, even if it means embracing technology, downloading a mobile app or using a device. He realised this when his team conducted a market survey to understand the health needs of people during the pandemic. “Our platform has never had a physical presence. It was always digital. And, so, when we spoke with users, we saw a new demand for home workouts.” After curating the exercises with their in-house fitness experts, the team launched the pilot venture. Currently, they are conducting eight to 10 sessions per week. “We decided to take a group approach as opposed to one-on-one since a sense of community always proves encouraging.” The workouts have been scaled down, and the coach is trained to be sensitive to their needs. “We have abstained from weights and focus more on breathing, stretching and light exercises.”
Mansur Rasiwala and wife Sara follow the virtual bootcamp by Akshay Kamble and Siddharth Naik, and yoga sessions by Eoin Finn on YouTube
Not everybody is taking it easy, though. Three days a week, Mansur Rasiwala, 70, turns his Cuffe Parade home into a boot camp. “I follow the virtual bootcamp by Akshay Kamble and Siddharth Naik, and yoga sessions by Eoin Finn on YouTube. Because I’ve been into fitness since the age of 12, it’s now a lifestyle.” He wakes up at 5.45 am every day and exercises from 7 am to 8.30 am. He also does 50 push ups and 50 sit ups and some amount of weight training.
Given the plethora of age-appropriate, online options, there’s no dearth of resources for seniors if they know what they are looking for.
Harinder Ahluwalia, a 72-year-old from Bengaluru, knew that she needed a replacement for her yoga sessions when her neighbourhoood health centre shut down in March. At her daughter-in-law’s insistence, she downloaded a fitness app. Until then, her exposure to mobile applications was restricted to listening to Gurbani or Sikh hymns. “I used to go for a yoga class because I don’t enjoy exercising alone at home. It’s no fun. But the lockdown left me with no choice,” she says. While starting an exercise routine can feel intimidating at first, it needn’t get complicated with the right guidance, she thinks. Ahluwalia now devotes an hour every morning to cardio exercises and yoga asanas. She is slowly warming up to the new routine. “What I have begun to like about these virtual workouts is the detailing they entail. The trainers keep a log of my diet needs and water intake, so it feels holistic.”
Geeta Notani has invested in a fitness tracker which is synced to an app and keeps track of health parameters
Like Ahluwalia, it did not take long for Khar resident Geeta Notani, who runs a chocolate brand, to switch over to a smart fitness device. “I love walking and wanted to keep track of how much distance I was covering, so I invested in a fitness tracker, which is synced to a mobile app.” The 61-year-old says she now has a goal to look forward to. “I started with 6,000 steps a day, moved to 9,000 and even went up to 13,000. But that was too much and everybody told me to cool down because you can’t overdo exercising at this stage.”
Bhavna Harchandrai conducts a one-on-one virtual fitness workout session with a client
Fitness instructor Bhavna Harchandrai believes it’s a bad idea for seniors to follow fitness apps or YouTube videos unmonitored. She has consciously refrained from group video sessions given the age group she’s involved with. “Just before the pandemic broke, I had conducted a talk for the IMC as part of their Fitness for Senior Citizens programme. During the lockdown, many of them approached me for a group session, but I declined. You have to customise the regimen because many have specific concerns such as joint pain, vertigo, blood pressure and the trainer has to monitor their form, technique, cater the workout to their needs as well as pause when required.” A couple of years ago, Harchandrai signed up for a course in Australia that focused on fitness for seniors. One of the things she learnt was chair exercises that work different muscle groups in the body. The workout has now come handy. “They can’t do zumba and pilates, so I’ve tried to introduce simple dance exercises to make it engaging. In fact, for many, I see that it’s proving exciting to shake a leg!”
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