Malaysia's superageing seniors share lifelong practices and habits that work

Thavamoney leading the group in not one but three dances.

Thavamoney Pillai may be 82 but she says, “I don’t feel old.”

“I am a retired teacher and I used to teach Physical Education, so I used to play all sorts of sports – from canoeing to swimming to dancing. I am still really active although maybe I don’t play as many different types of sports as when I was younger. But I teach line dancing still and Bible study too so my mind and body are still active,” said Thavamoney, one of eight superagers in a study by Universiti Malaya (UM) researchers on seniors who have aged extraordinarily well.

At a recent event to celebrate the superageing seniors at UM’s Medical Faculty, she showed just how fit and agile she is when she led her peers and others through three line dancing routines.

Titled “Exploring the construct of superageing/superagers in the Malaysian Elders Longitudinal Research (MELoR) cohort”, the study hopes to find the “secret sauce” to ageing well. The researchers are Prof Dr Tan Maw Pin, professor in geriatrics and consultant geriatrician at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), neurogeneticist Dr Azlina Ahmad Annuar and doctoral student Moses Raj Muraly.

Apart from Thavamoney, the other superagers are Santhamma Rajan, Tan Leok Teok, Lee Ah Ku, Tong Chau Wa, M.P. Haridas, Ng Sze Ke and Datuk Joseph Rajahratnam.

Haridas believes we need to take responsibility for our own health from a young age.Haridas believes we need to take responsibility for our own health from a young age.

“I don’t know exactly what it means to be a superager but I do believe that it is our responsibility to keep ourselves healthy. Doctors can keep us alive, but they can’t make us healthy. It’s our responsibility to keep good habits that determine what kind of life we have,” says M.P. Haridas, 86.

The former hockey player and former general manager of the Olympic Council of Malaysia says that he keeps himself active and performs strengthening exercises daily.

“It isn’t anything too complicated, just functional exercises,” says Haridas. “It is hard to drum this into young people because at their age, they can bounce back easily. But you will pay the price when you are older.”

Thavamoney (left) and Santhamma aat the event in UM.Thavamoney (left) and Santhamma aat the event in UM.

For Tan Leok Teok, 81, even more important than exercise and a good diet is being joyful.

“We need to have love and forgiveness in our hearts. We need to be joyful,” she says. “Not that I don’t get angry at all. But if we hold on to our anger, and cannot forgive, we can never be happy,” she says.

Alhough they don’t really think of themselves as superagers – Tan kept asking the researchers if they were sure she fit into the category of superager – the eight participants are happy to be growing old well.

“It isn’t our chronological age that matters but our biological age. I may be in my 81 but my biological age, according to my medical tests, is about 58. I make sure I do my blood tests every year, says Tong Chau Wa, who told the crowd that he is sometimes called "Tong Kurus".

“The thing about ageing is that we have to learn to be OK with ourselves. I met a friend the other day who was very sad. When I asked why, he explained that all 10 of his friends from his makan group have now passed on. He is the only one left. Even for me, many of my friends have passed away. I lost my best friend some 20 years ago. But this is a fact of life that we have to accept. We need to learn to be OK on our own, with ourselves,” concludes Tong.

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