Centenarian Fauja Singh who ran the marathon in London on Sunday is an inspiration for many athletes who did not have the opportunity to participate in national or international meets in their younger days.
He would make an excellent mascot for World Health Day, celebrated on April 7. The theme this year was ‘good health adds life to years'. Is he genetically superior to an average human being? Not really, said Kannan Pughazenthi, a fitness physician for athletes.
“Fauja Singh's feat has a lot to do with maintaining good health,” Dr. Kannan said. “It is a misconception that as we age we must cut down on physical activities. This is akin to suicide. Fauja Singh consults a doctor before each race. It is a lesson for all,” he said.
Chennai has its share of senior citizens who rigorously exercise, participate in competitive sports and keep lifestyle diseases at bay.
John Devasirvatham was diagnosed with diabetes when he was 48. The police officer turned to active outdoor life and at the age of 73, began training for track-and-field events. “I did not know about any sports movements for senior citizens until a friend told me about them,” said the 88-year-old. He is now training to participate in the international sports meet to be held in Chinese Taipei in November. He practises high jump, triple jump, 80 m hurdles and 100 m running, regularly.
“As a CBI officer, I spent much of my time on the desk writing out case sheets and ended up with diabetes. Now, I take medicines and my blood sugar level is under control. Though I cannot practise at the sports track every day, I go to the gym and follow a healthy lifestyle,” he said.
Quite a number of women too have managed to take time out for outdoor activities and pursue sports at a professional level. T. Rukmini Devi, who works in the public relations department of Indian Overseas Bank, is a fan of Fauja Singh. “Two months ago, at the Bangalore national meet I saw him run four laps,” said the 55-year-old who practises pole vault, javelin and hammer throw.
As a school-goer, Ms. Rukmini gave up active participation in sports after class 10. But she kept up her interest in the field by roping in her women friends and colleagues to play badminton and throw ball regularly. Six years ago, she joined the Masters' Athlete Federation of India and cannot do without her daily gym sessions.
“During my daughter's wedding, for four months I could not follow my health regimen. I could sense a lack of well-being in myself. Doing household chores alone is not much of an exercise,” she said.
Athletes who practise regularly rarely suffer from serious ailments, said Dr. Kannan. “Most of us do not attach much importance to physical well-being. Staying fit is as much of a priority as buying a car or a house. Among the elderly, it is not wear and tear of bones but disuse of bones that causes the most damage,” he said