Daily Exercise Is Recipe for Long Life in Hong Kong
HONG KONG — A bit after 7 a.m., rain or shine, Grace Chan, 65, makes her way up and down one of the many mountain trails in this subtropical metropolis.
At the same hour each day, Tang Shuet Pik, 75, practices the Chinese martial art of tai chi in Victoria Park , a sanctuary in one of Hong Kong Island’s busiest shopping districts. And Tang Yuet Lin, 80, can be found touching her toes before she plunges into the waters of Silverstrand Beach for her ritual daily swim.
每一天的同一时刻，75岁的唐世碧（Tang Shuet Pik，音译）都在维多利亚公园打太极拳。这是一处闹中取静的地方，周围是香港岛最繁华的商业区之一。80岁的唐玥琳（Tang Yuet Lin，音译）正在做手触脚趾的准备运动，即将在银线湾的海水中进行她的每日游泳。
Despite the smog and at times oily Cantonese cuisine, women in Hong Kong live the longest among most populations in the world, and this is partly why: A tradition of dawn workouts that put many of their sons, daughters and the rest of us to shame.
The average life expectancy of women at birth here is 86.7 years, according to government statistics published last month. For men it’s 80.5 years. That’s up from 78.5 years for women and 72.3 years for men 30 years ago. The report attributes the increase in longevity to better medical services and greater health consciousness.
Places like Monaco, Andorra and Japan also consistently rank among the highest in life expectancy (while Swaziland and Zambia are among the lowest). The South China Morning Post , an English-language newspaper here, reported last month that women in Hong Kong can now expect to live the longest in the world, surpassing Japan for the first time.
Whether that is true depends on how you crunch the numbers, of course, but one thing is for sure: Hong Kong’s older women are out in full force in the city’s quieter corners each morning and that exercise is contributing to the quality and length of their lives.
Ms. Chan retired when she was 50 after working various office jobs and raising, by her own admission, an un-athletic son. Hiking is now her main occupation.
A 6 a.m. wake-up and a bowl of oatmeal behind her, Ms. Chan begins her three-kilometer, or two-mile, ascent up Mount Parker Road . Dressed in gray trousers and a green T-shirt, with a black bag for water and an umbrella, Ms. Chan marches ahead at a speed that would leave many people breathless. But she talks as fluidly as if she were seated with a cup of tea.
She points to the spot where not long ago a cat went head to head with a foot-long poisonous green bamboo snake. The skirmish ended in a draw because a nearby observer startled the two creatures, which parted ways. But her money had been on the cat.
In the surrounding trees hang thick woody vines called Birdwood’s Mucuna. She explains that the plant’s flowers yield beans in April that can be used for soup. And there, on that very spot where a sign now stands, was once a large tree that got blown over in a typhoon.
Ms. Chan is in good company. The path that morning, like all mornings, is teeming with like-minded individuals. “She’s 80,” she says pointing to one. “He’s 88,” she says of another.
She knows them all. A woman approaching her 70s overtakes her on the way up, in a rush to fill with water a big empty jug she carries on her back. Ms. Chan explains that the climber prefers the water up the hill to the water from her own tap at home below.
A smiling man, shirtless and with defined biceps, suddenly barrels down the hill. Ms. Chan greets him and presses a piece of candy into his hand. He’s 92.
Ms. Chan splashes water from a small fountain along the route onto her neck and face. Just above, in the overgrown bushes, is a small cemetery forgotten by all but her generation.
She attributes the longevity of Hong Kong women in part to good nutrition. After her morning hikes, she goes to the market to buy fish to steam and vegetables to boil or stir fry.
Also playing a role in her health, she says, is the pleasure she gets from socializing with others on the trail. But it is above all the exercise that is the biggest factor. She swears that she recovers faster from colds and the flu than when she was younger and more sedentary.
A few kilometers west and down at sea level is Victoria Park, the largest in the former British territory, built on reclaimed land in the 1950s.
No corner of the park is vacant in the mornings. Groups of dancers, joggers, walkers and practitioners of tai chi vie for space. Tang Shuet Pik has been coming to the same spot for 10 years for her tai chi sessions.
One morning, she slowly shifts her balance from foot to foot, both shod in bright pink shoes, and her arms sway in synch with others in her group. Traditional music streams from a small speaker in the background.
During a break, Ms. Tang says she was a housewife when she was young but would do some sewing on the side to help support her five children. Once they and her six grandchildren grew up, she sought out company and exercise at the park.
She says tai chi helps her to walk more steadily. “Sometimes I trip but I can quickly regain balance,” she says. Another benefit: the camaraderie of the park and the group dim sum breakfasts after. “It’s about being out. Naturally it makes you happier.”
Across Hong Kong Harbor, on the mainland, Tang Yuet Lin, a retired domestic helper and cashier, has been swimming at the same beach for 40 years. But by the time she touches the water each day, she has walked 20 minutes from her home and descended 180 steps to the beach. And she has stretched for 20 minutes.
Ms. Tang attributes her and her peers’ longevity primarily to exercise but also to diet. She avoids eating too many mangoes and lychees, foods that are believed by many here to throw the body off balance. And when her legs are sore she drinks an herbal tea from a Chinese doctor. “It helps the body realign,” she says.
Just one more question, since Ms. Tang seems anxious to continue her routine: Which stroke does she prefer? She laughs. Her son calls it the “snail stroke,” she says. She pulls a visor over her face to shield her skin from the rising sun and wades into the water.