Teluk Intan, Malaysia – Working out with aging equipment in his modest gym, Malaysian bodybuilder A. Arokiasamy, 72, presses two dumbbells and then flexes his muscular arms.
Despite his years of advancement, the champion still pumps iron every day and believes that staying healthy with a vigorous routine is the best defense against the coronavirus.
Arokiasamy took to weight training after dropping out of school. He went on to represent Malaysia in several editions of Mr. Universe and won gold at the 1981 Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines.
Arokiasamy – whose hero is Arnold Schwarzenegger, movie star and former Mr. Universe – began training aspiring bodybuilders to lift weights and opened his gym in his hometown of Teluk Intan.
“Weight lifting and exercise can slow aging and keep you healthy,” said Arokiasamy, who has seven children and five grandchildren.
“The deadly coronavirus pandemic threatens us – we can fight it by lifting weights to stay in shape.”
Although strength training is not commonly associated with the elderly, some research suggests that it has health benefits for those who continue to live on.
A 2016 US study found that when people aged 65 and over exercised at least twice a week, their life expectancy improved dramatically.
The study, led by researchers at Penn State College of Medicine, looked at 15 years of data from more than 30,000 elderly people in the United States.
The gym run by Arokiasamy, a member of Malaysia’s multi-ethnic Indian minority, is a small building next to his house that is open to the public, charging only the equivalent of a dollar a day.
It’s filled with battered weights and a range of other equipment, some made from junk, and is constantly manned by men pumping iron and getting advice from the veteran bodybuilder.
Arokiasamy had a difficult education, leaving school at age 11 to work and support his poor family.
He tried various sports – hockey, badminton and football – but was not on any team.
However, he developed his strength by chopping firewood and came up with the idea to try weight training.
“I headed to a gym near my house and started building my muscles,” he said.
He had his first success in 1968, winning the gold medal in a competition in his home state of Perak, and continued to compete in Malaysia and abroad for many years.
Even though he was a successful athlete, he still had a day job as a school gardener and now works as a security guard.
In addition to training regularly, Arokiasamy says he has been successful in maintaining his health by eating well.
“I live a simple life and strive for a balanced diet… I grow my own vegetables,” he says.
“I avoid sugar and junk food, and a big no to drugs and steroids.”
And despite his triumphs, he has some regrets.
The most important of these is “not to meet Arnold (Schwarzenegger) in person and not to qualify for the final round of the Mr. Universe tournament after five attempts,” he said.
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