Volume 75, Number 38 | February 8 -14 2006

Sports/ Health

She shows it’s never too late to get in great shape

By Judith Stiles

Although Lower East Side resident Laura Pham is considered an elderly woman at 74 years old, don’t be getting out a wheelchair for her any time soon. While her peers are huffing and puffing climbing the stairs, Pham is fit as a fiddle because she works out every day at the Sol Goldman Y on E. 14th St. She has been exercising regularly on their fitness equipment since 1997, which translates into the fact that she was daring enough to try a more contemporary form of exercise at the ripe age of 65.

“My daughter Kim introduced me to a trainer and the equipment back then, and I said, oh no, I can’t do that because I’d surely break a bone,” she recounts with a smile. However, before 1997 she had been playing tennis regularly with a good friend who suddenly died of a heart attack, so to fill the void, Pham decided to give the gym a whirl.

At 5 foot 1 inch and 103 pounds, Pham currently goes through a rigorous exercise routine, which includes 30 or more leg presses with 205 pounds of weights. She spends three hours in an exercise session, strengthening her upper and lower body on the equipment. Sometimes she cuts the routine in half but adds on a 100-lap swim in the Sol Goldman Y pool. “I don’t talk to anyone and I concentrate on using the right form. I am very disciplined and very patient,” she says describing her afternoons at the gym.

In 1976 Pham moved to New York City from Thailand because her husband began working at the United Nations. She raised three children on the Lower East Side, which she admits with regret left her little time for exercising. She jogged sometimes, played volleyball and biked, but only sporadically because of her busy days with the children. In 1985 when her youngest went off to college she cheerfully asked the kids to take their 125 swimming medals with them, at which point she was determined to take swimming lessons herself. When asked why she dedicates so much time to exercising, she replies, “I feel so good because it is so relaxing. I can walk faster and I feel so happy after I exercise,” she adds.

The discipline of working out regularly carries over to the rest of her life. She doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol and eats very little food with sugar or fat. A typical lunch includes rice, steamed vegetables or salad, cooked meat, such as chicken, and only boiled water to drink. “I do not accept water from the faucet,” she says, also adding that she does not drink coffee, tea or soda.

Pham has little time to go to the movies as she spends much of her free time studying and improving her French. She speaks five languages, English, French, Thai, Lao and Vietnamese. She enjoys knitting, crocheting, sewing and an occasional crossword puzzle.

New scientific data shows that exercising regularly as a senior citizen (like Pham) can help stave off dementia as well as other health problems associated with aging. The National Institute of Health strongly recommends four types of exercise for senior citizens:

Strengthening exercises to help build muscles and increase metabolism.

Balance exercises to help build leg muscles and prevent falls.

Endurance exercises to improve heart rate and breathing

Stretching exercises to increase flexibility and freedom of movement

Because of Pham’s overall attentiveness to good health and a vigorous exercise routine, she never needs medication and only visits the doctor for an annual checkup, which she passes with flying colors. For her healthy lifestyle, in 2004 and 2005 she was awarded The Presidential Activity and Lifestyle Award with a certificate signed by President George W. Bush.

In speaking with Pham it is clear that this lithe and limber lady finds it hard to sit and chat for very long because she is always on the go. However, before she runs off to her next activity, she does take a moment to astutely point out that if other older adults engaged in a regular exercise program, “The government could save a lot of money on health care costs for seniors.” With a smile she adds that laughter is also a very important ingredient in maintaining good health. She hopes to make it home on time to eat a good meal and watch a little “Jeopardy” on television, because, she adds with a giggle as she dashes out the door of the Y, “I like the way they laugh a lot and they make me laugh too.”

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