China's elderly find life and joy in exercise

Thu Oct 22, 2009 2:53am EDT
 
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By Grace Liang and Lucy Hornby

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Gao Mingyuan has found joy at age 66.

Joy, in his case, consists of bending himself double and hooking his legs around a pole that runs behind his shoulders, in a Chinese meditative martial arts tradition.

Gao is one of many Chinese seniors, freed from the rigors of work and raising children, who are turning to martial arts such as tai chi, bopping to trendy beats or singing patriotic songs as they seek health and friends in parks across the country.

"We forget all our troubles when we practice," he said as he contorted himself at the Temple of Heaven, where seniors exercise beneath the gnarled trees at dawn.

China has over 140 million people over the age of 60. Many lost out on an education, thanks to the Cultural Revolution, and have retired early as state-owned factories went bust or to help care for grandchildren.

About 54 million engage in some sort of physical activity to enliven their golden years.

"Sportswear companies would well take heed of that figure, given how obsessed they are with the youth market," said Kunal Sinha, who studies the aging demographic for Ogilvy & Mather in Shanghai.

The elderly Chinese who swarm to the Temple of Heaven are a treasure-trove of traditional folk arts, martial arts and Chinese opera, sung in cracked voices that are still in tune.   Continued...

 
<p>Ma Junqiu, a 86-year-old folk artist, performs during a morning exercise session at the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing October 16, 2009. China has over 140 million people over the age of 60. Many lost out on an education, thanks to the Cultural Revolution, and have retired early as state-owned factories went bust or to help care for grandchildren. About 54 million engage in some sort of physical activity to enliven their golden years. Picture taken October 16, 2009. REUTERS/Grace Liang</p>