Thursday, April 7, 2011


I am always on the lookout for inspiring role models among older adults. The six men and women listed below represent an increasing number of senior citizens who are rediscovering the joie de vivre as they advance into their golden years.

At 98, Briton Fauja Singh is probably the world's oldest marathon runner. He completed his first marathon at the age of 89! Since then he's done four more in London, one in Toronto and one in New York, all to help raise funds for charity. Still sprightly and weighing only 52kg, he says God helps him to finish every race. He holds 12 records for running. His philosopy of life: "I do not consider myself to be old. From the moment I do that, I would lose everything, because age is a state of mind - as long as you're positive you can do anything."

The world's oldest woman marathon runner, Gadys Burrill, was 92 when she completed the Honolulu Marathon in December 2010 in nine hours and 53 minutes. Her advice for others wanting to live a long and healthy lifestyle? 'Just get out there and walk or run,' she said on Monday. 'I like walking because you can stop and smell the roses, but it's a rarity that I stop.' Gadys ran her first marathon in 2004 at the age of 86. She had been an aircraft pilot, mountain climber, desert hiker and horseback rider before she developed a passion for running.

Nepalese Min Bahadur Sherchan is the oldest man to climb Mt Everest. He achieved this feat in 2008 when he was 77. Now 81, he plans to ascen7d Mt Everest again. When he was in Kuala Lumpur recently, he was asked the secret of his stamina. His answer: "For a strong and healthy body, I think consistency in your life is very important. You have to eat and sleep on time. You also need to consistently do light exercises."

Britain's oldest model, Daphne Selfe, now 83, has appeared in Vogue and Marie Claire. She is still much sought after by modelling agencies and has done campaigns for Dolce and Gabbana. Going grey actually helped her modelling career blossom again. "My hair is my fortune, it made me more striking," she said. "I don't feel a day over 60. It's fantastic. I'll continue modelling until they stop asking. I love it. It's fun and keeps me young. I was never one for wild parties and I've never had any need to get drunk." She still maintains the same svelte figure that she had in 1950 when she started modelling.

In 2009, Taiwanese Chau Mu-he became the world's oldest graduate when he received his Masters degree in Philosophy at the age of 96. He never skipped classes during the two years of study, commuting daily by bus. His thesis advisor described him as diligent, with a sense of humour, and a desire to learn. Asked about the secret to his health, he said there was none, but added that he never quarrels with anyone.

Closer to home, there is Teresa Hsu, Singapore's most celebrated centenarian and my role model of how I want to age. At 113, Teresa still packs a busy schedule giving motivational talks and doing charity work. Last month she was in Penang to attend the launch of her biography. An avid reader, Teresa is fluent in six languages and retains an infectious sense of humour. She attributes her longevity to a healthy dose of ‘ha ha ha’, and a strict vegetarian diet.

So there we have it - gems of wisdom from those who have travelled the road to longevity, and still show no signs of packing up just yet. All six share several commonalities that we can adopt.

  1. None of them are obese.
  2. They are careful about their diet.
  3. They live simple lives.
  4. They follow a regime of daily exercise.
  5. They have a positive outlook on life.
  6. They have a desire to learn.
  7. They harbour no ill feelings towards anyone.
  8. They have a purpose, a passion that drives them.
  9. They do not think of themselves as 'old'.
  10. All of them enjoy the company of family and friends.
Here's to good health, good cheer and good company in our retirement years.

(Above: With another inspiring role model - Henry Lim, 85, founder of the Gerontological Society of Singapore. The photo was taken at the Asia-Pacific Conference on Ageing held on 25-26 March 2011.)


Starmandala said...

Just be glad neither of us is old enough to be featured in this post :-D

seniorsaloud said...

Antares, I would be proud to live to be as old as any of these six people, and still be enjoying life with a sound mind, body and spirit. It takes discipline and focus, but I intend to give it a shot.

Winston said...

A lot of folks have the preconceived notion that being old means being decrepit!
Nothing can be further from the truth!
In fact, there are more infirm or sickly youngsters with heart problems, diabetes, strokes etc. than perhaps those who are very old.
I think that it's a fact of life that the really elderly have found the formula to a healthy lifestyle and that helped them in their longevity in the first place.