It all began 30 years ago when Rosnah Jonet installed mirrors in the hall of her home and converted it into a studio to teach aerobics. It may not sound extraordinary – but then Rosnah, better known as Kak Rose, just celebrated her 75th birthday last month and all her students are younger than her.
“My oldest student is 74 and she’s been learning with me for 30 years. The rest are in their 60s and have been with me more than 20 years,” says Kak Rose, who lives in Ipoh with her husband.
Kak Rose has classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday, she takes a break from teaching and does static cycling by herself.
Although she also used to have students in their 20s and 30s, many of them have moved away from Ipoh. She eventually changed her classes (from high-) to low-impact aerobics to cater to the majority of her students who are now in their senior years.
“I changed the choreography and movements to suit the majority: no more high-impact and step aerobics, but just low-impact high-intensity aerobics,” she explains.
There’s no secret formula to staying healthy and fit even to a ripe old age: regular exercise and a proper diet must go hand-in-hand, says the sprightly grandmother of six.
“I’ve told all my students: when you exercise, you’ve to bear in mind, it’s not some slimming programme for losing weight. Rather, it’s to help you be healthy and fit. But, if you do it consistently, you’ll become more toned so you may look slimmer,” she says.
“Of course, this will only happen if you also have the proper diet,” she adds.
But, by diet, Kak Rose doesn’t mean starving oneself or even avoiding certain foods.
“I believe we must have a balanced diet consisting of carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, vitamins and minerals and avoid snacks in-between. Eat regularly according to a set timetable. You can still have breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner but in balanced portions,” she advises.
“If you only eat when you’re hungry, you tend to eat more, then it’s not balanced anymore,” she adds.
Good, sound sleep is also important, Kak Rose says.
“As people get older, they tend to sleep less or perhaps even have difficulty sleeping. But it’s important to sleep at least five hours every night, although the ideal is seven to eight,” she says.
Kak Rose admits that growing older does come with its own set of problems: she has high cholesterol and early diabetes, but all the exercise does help.
“Aerobics has boosted my immunity and level of fitness. That’s why I’m still on the lowest dosage of medication for my diabetes,” she says.
“I’ve also maintained my weight ever since I got married until today. I can still put on my party dresses from 40 and 50 years ago!” she exclaims. The petite Kak Rose is only 147.5cm tall and weighs 42kg.
She first encountered aerobics in 1982 when she was a member of Puspanita, the National Association of Wives of Civil Servants and Women Civil Servants.
“An American visitor from the Peace Corps introduced aerobics to us,” Kak Rose recalls.
When the visitor went back to the United States after two months, she passed the baton to Kak Rose, including her Jane Fonda audio cassette tape.
“The tape had instructions which I studied closely. Later, I put the moves to my own music. I also started watching more exercise videos,” she says.
Kak Rose even took aerobics classes when she went to Boston and Ithaca in the United States to visit her son and daughter in the mid-1980s.
When she returned to Malaysia, she continued teaching aerobics at Puspanita, with six doctors and two physiotherapists learning under her.
“It gave me confidence that they would trust me to teach them,” she says.
Kak Rose eventually branched out to teach aerobics at various government departments and social clubs. She would bring her own equipment – mini compo, music, apparatus and even boxes for the step-aerobic classes – and go to their venue to teach.
“My timetable was always full. I would do it once in the morning and once in the evening, for the whole week,” says Kak Rose who was already in her early 40s at that time.
She has three children, including a stepdaughter, and went full swing into aerobics after her late husband passed away in 1989. Eight years after her first husband passed away, Kak Rose married her current husband, Anwar Hassan.
“He gave me his full support and encouraged me to carry on teaching aerobics,” she says.
During the movement control order period, when she felt bored because she couldn’t have classes, Anwar accompanied her in her workouts.
“But I had to re-programme the aerobics sequence to suit him and we did it at a slower pace since it’s something new to him. But he eventually picked it up,” she says.
Kak Rose reveals that she teaches aerobics not to earn a living but initially as a way of contributing to her association.
“I didn’t even charge market rates but just enough to pay for my petrol,” she says.
Now, she charges a nominal fee as a commitment between her students and herself.
“I teach aerobics because I need exercise and I want companions to accompany me in my workouts,” she reveals.
“Most of the students have become my friends, and every year, they never fail to celebrate my birthday,” she adds.
Besides aerobics, Kak Rose is also into gardening.
“I tend to my plants daily, using a watering can rather than a hose to water them,” she says. “I want to cultivate this habit so that when I eventually become less energetic and unable to do certain things, I’ll still be able to do this out of habit,” she says.
Kak Rose’s strength of mind and determination is obvious. When she had trigger finger and carpal tunnel syndrome, she even carried a tumbler and walked back and forth to water her plants rather than use the hose.
Even when she slipped and fractured her toe, she continued teaching.
“I sat in a wheelchair and moved, demonstrating the steps so that my students could follow. I was literally teaching aerobics from my wheelchair!” she says.
Kak Rose even teaches aerobics during the fasting month.
“I told myself: my exercise is done inside the house, under the fan ... if labourers who work outside under the hot sun can survive, why can’t I?” she concludes.