TELUK INTAN, Malaysia — Working out with aging equipment in his modest gym, 72-year-old Malaysian bodybuilder A. Arokiasamy bench presses two dumbbells and then flexes his muscular arms.
He pumps iron every day and believes staying healthy with a vigorous routine is the best defense against the coronavirus.
Arokiasamy got into bodybuilding after dropping out of school. He went on to represent Malaysia in several editions of Mr. Universe and win the gold in the 1981 Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines.
The champion — whose hero is movie star and former Mr. Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger — started coaching aspiring bodybuilders and opened his gym in his hometown of Teluk Intan.
“Weightlifting and exercise can slow down aging and keep you healthy,” said Arokiasamy, who has seven children and five grandchildren. “The deadly coronavirus pandemic is threatening us—we can fight it by lifting weights to stay fit.”
While bodybuilding may not be commonly associated with the elderly, some research suggests they can benefit from it.
A 2016 US study found that when people age 65 and older did strength training at least twice a week, their life expectancy improved substantially.
The study led by researchers from Penn State College of Medicine looked at 15 years of data from over 30,000 elderly people in the United States.
‘A simple life’
The gym run by Arokiasamy is a small building next to his home that is open to the public, charging just one dollar a day.
He had a tough upbringing, leaving school at age 11 to work and support his poor family.
He tried various sports — hockey, badminton, and football — but did not make it to any team.
However, he built up his strength by chopping firewood and hit on the idea of trying bodybuilding. “I headed to a gym near my house and began to build up 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 went on to compete in Malaysia and internationally 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.
As well as regularly working out, Arokiasamy says he has managed to maintain his health by eating well.
“I live a simple life and strive for a balanced diet… I grow my own vegetables,” he said. “I avoid sugar and junk food, and a big no to drugs and steroids.”
Despite his triumphs, he does have some regrets. The biggest of these are “not meeting Arnold (Schwarzenegger) in person, and failing to make it to the final round of the Mr. Universe tournament after five attempts,” he said.
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