You're never too old to go from flab to fab

PHOTO: You're never too old to go from flab to fab

According to studies by the World Bank, the live expectancy of Singaporeans has gone up from about 66 years in 1960, to about 82 years in 2009.

With the advance in medical technology, it's likely that each generation will be able to live longer than the next. That is great news.

However, is it? Living a longer life may not be that great if you can live to be a hundred and ten years old but can't walk, are in constant chronic pain, can't take care of yourself, and even need a machine to help you breathe and go to the toilet.

The issue in question is not in the length of life, but rather, quality of life.

And for those who think it's too late to rid yourself of that pot belly and terrible living habits, there is a living example that you can, if fact, teach an old dog new tricks.

72-year-old Dr Jeffrey Life shot to fame when pictures of him with a rippling, body-builder physique emerged in the media, a strangely juxtaposing sight in contrast to his balding white head and wrinkled face.

Readers were amazed at what they called the man with "the 70-year-old head but the 20-year-old body-builder body."

What's more amazing is that he reportedly transformed his fat to muscle over a period of just 12 weeks. 

Based in Las Vegas, Dr Life was a borderline diabetic to boot before he decided to shape up.  He was, in his own words, a typical middle-aged man who ate, drank, and was a total sloth.

What sparked his interest in changing his life around was when he picked up a fitness magazines when he was about 60, and read about a 12-week, before-and-after fitness contest.

Fast forward three months, and he had shed 11kg and cut his body fat from 28 per cent to 10 per cent. He entered the contest and became one of the final 10 grand champions.

"If I could do this in my 60s, I truly believe anybody can," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Dr Life's body is a cumulative effort built by a six-day-a-week exercise regimen that includes hard cardio, heavy weights, martial arts and Pilates.

In addition, he watches his weight, maintaining a strict low-glycemic carb diet, boosted by supplements.

However, when he hit 64, he found out that his body was no longer responding to exercise like it used to. He began to notice abdominal fat piling on, depression and dip in libido. He was suffering from andropause - the decline of testosterone levels.

Hence, for the last seven years, Dr Life's health routine has been hormonally enhanced, including testosterone boosts.

As Dr Life has shown, age is not a factor when it comes to keeping fit.

To change your lifestyle to ensure a reasonable quality of life as you age, there are several things you can do.

Jonathan Wong, a personal trainer, weight loss coach and the owner of Genesis Performance Center, told YourHealth that there are medical tests to check the body's ability to detoxify and digest, supplements that can aid the body's ability to recover from stress, and food plans to help manage blood sugar, body fat and weight.

However, while there is a long list of advice he can give to elderly clients who want tips to increasing the quality of life as they age, there is just one top lifestyle change he recommends: Strength training.

Not cardio, not slow walks in the park, but a safely designed (according to your current fitness and flexibility level) strength training program.

Here are 3 big reasons Jonathan gave on why strength training is the right lifestyle habit to learn:

1. Strength training improves upper body strength, and lower body power

How many senior citizens do you know who have come home from a walk to the supermarket, suddenly start panting uncontrollably and suffer a physical breakdown?

While this is possible, it doesn't happen often. Cardio vascular conditioning, while important, is not often an immediate factor in quality of life.

What is far more common is that a person gets older and weaker from lack of activity, and then becomes unable to take care of him/herself.

It is also common to see elderly people suffer falls due to a lack of lower body strength and power to "catch" themselves if they get off balance for any reason.

Once a fall occurs, it often comes with a break in a major bone, like the hips or legs.

This leads to more immobility, less strength and a steady decline in physical ability. This is a terrible decrease in quality of life, and strength training can help with these issues.

2. Strength training increases cardiovascular and bone health in minimal time

If you had to choose a form of exercise, strength training is your best bet, at any age, and particularly as you get older. When done correctly it boosts cardiovascular function.

The heart is not a muscle you can train directly. You can't make it do push ups, you can't make it go swimming.

The heart only responds to demands placed on it by the rest of the body.

So if you do strength training in the right way, your heart will get a great workout without wasting time on the bike or treadmill.

Strength training also boosts bone strength. The healthy stresses placed on the body stimulate bone thickening and strengthening.

All the calcium supplements in the world will not be effective if the body is not stimulated to put it on the bones.

3. Strength training puts your body into a positive state

One of the "secrets" of celebrities looking young is the addition of growth hormone, which can be taken orally or injected. However, the hormonal output of proper strength training programs is also growth hormones. And all for free!

This hormone tells your body to keep and grow lean, strong muscle and bone, and it also signals your body to drop excess fat. In a way, it's "double happiness".

Strength training is far more effective at growth hormone release than long, slow cardiovascular exercises. So it puts your body into a positive hormonal state

Many studies, including one done at the Center of Hip Health and Mobility in Vancouver Canada, have found that strength training (which requires more concentration and focus than sitting on a recumbent bike) has the ability to boost brain function.

Just two times per week was found to boost memory and decision making ability in people aged 65-75 years.

Loss of memory and brain function is a great fear of many seniors, so keeping your brain in a positive state is also a great increase in quality of life.

Emotional health is also boosted by strength training. Yes, other forms of exercise can get you this benefit as well, but it comes "for free" along with the other benefits of strength training.

The chemicals released from your brain during and after training give an increased sense of happiness, relaxation and well being.

With a good training program, it is also 'cool' to see yourself stronger and fitter than you were 30 or 40 years ago. So strength training boosts confidence as well. All these factors put your emotions into a positive state.

This article was contributed by Jonathan Wong, a personal trainer and weight loss coach. Coach Jon, as he is known to his clients, owns Genesis Performance Center, a private health and fitness centre. To find out more, visit