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One is never too old to exercise, says 85-year-old Zhang Huifang as she performs acrobatic moves on parallel bars.
It is 4:30am in Xi’an, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province. The sun will not rise for another three hours, but Zhang is already taking a 4-kilometer power walk in a park to warm up.
She then begins her daily intensive exercise regime on parallel bars, which has made her a celebrity in the park.
Dubbed “parallel bars granny,” Zhang is not a professional gymnast, but she is nevertheless an inspirational figure for people who exercise in her neighborhood.
Zhang usually begins her impressive routines with high leg lifts performed at speed. Then she moves on to curl-ups, gripping one bar and placing her legs on the other. She can even do that with one hand. Zhang also swings her legs while sitting on the bars. Without taking a rest, she concludes her three-hour exercises with dozens of sit-ups and push-ups.
Zhang began exercising eight years ago when her village was urbanized. Having retired from farm work, she now spends time by exercising. She has since kept to her habit of exercising on the parallel bars.
The octogenarian is among the growing number of Chinese fitness enthusiasts who have heeded the government’s call for people to exercise more in order to build “a healthy China” and to enable the country to become a leader in international sports.Many parks are equipped with fitness facilities. Square dancing, a form of group dancing in public, has become popular among the elderly across China.
“Exercising makes me happy and healthy,” Zhang says.
It can be quite dangerous for the elderly to perform gymnastic moves, but Zhang says she created her own moves and they suit her well.
“I think the most important thing is to keep exercising,” she says.
Zhang follows a strict daily routine. She goes to bed before 10pm, rises at 4am, and walks to the park, which is 1 kilometer from home. In the day time, she takes care of two great-grandchildren at home.