Personality Spotlight

97-year-old Mdm Chan: "Everyone must exercise, if not, one would experience aches and pains."

Published on 30 May 2023

Mdm Chan Foong Chai is not your typical nonagenarian. At 97 years of age, she could spend her days lounging and watching television. But, she chooses to be active. If you’re at the rooftop garden of Nursing Home (Jurong West) in the morning, you would hear voices and cheers echo through the air as Mdm Chan leads her fellow residents for ‘Morning Buddies’ or 早安伙伴们, a daily exercise session that lasts for 45 minutes to an hour.

During these sessions, Mdm Chan leads a small group of four to five residents in doing simple breathing and stretching exercises, qigong postures and other exercise moves. Those who are wheelchair bound can also join in. Through these sessions, Mdm Chan imparts decades of exercise-related knowledge to her peers, and exercises the choice and independence that the nursing home encourages of its residents.

Mdm Chan has always been an advocate of staying active. At 62 years of age, she and her husband started learning taichi at a community centre; and at 75 years old, she picked up line dancing.

Prior to living in the Nursing Home, Mdm Chan was a housewife and later, a caregiver for her husband who was diagnosed with dementia. Mdm Chan grappled with caregiver responsibilities for about a decade. This included shuttling between her home and the NTUC Health’s Active Ageing Centre (Redhill) where her husband would take part in activities to prevent his condition from worsening. While her husband was there, Mdm Chan would volunteer to help out and conduct exercise sessions once a week for fellow seniors. Even till the age of 90, Mdm Chan would take the bus by herself to the Active Ageing Centre every weekday to volunteer.

By volunteering, the seniors at the centre can benefit, but it is also good for me as it keeps me occupied and socially connected.

Unfortunately, at 90 years of age, Mdm Chan was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and needed surgery. Her age made surgery risky, but she agreed to it as it offered her a chance to continue to live the meaningful life she wanted. After the surgery, Mdm Chan was rendered bed bound, a situation which she disliked. She requested for rehabilitation therapy to help her body regain strength. And she was so adamant to be ambulant again that even when the therapist was not by her side, she did her own exercises. Today, Mdm Chan walks on her own without the support of a walker and she proudly exclaims, “I’m free, because I have the willpower to learn to walk.”

Mdm Chan has these tips to share

1. Eat a balanced diet and in moderation.

One can eat a buffet once in a while, not every day. If you go on a holiday, just consume whatever you like. Avoid fried food, especially from outside where the oil is reused. Stewed and steamed food is the best.

Mdm Chan also shares that apart from food consumption, life is best lived in moderation. For instance, one should save 20% of income for rainy days and not spend more than what one can earn.

2. Must exercise

Everyone must exercise, if not one would experience aches and pains.

3. Sleep

Mdm Chan shared that she sleeps 10 hours a day. To working professionals, she has this advice which she even offers to Ministers of Parliament when they do their constituency visits:

Set aside work to have rest; your brain and eye especially need rest. Your organs can rest while you are asleep. Sleep before 11pm.

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