Written by Gail Evans
Ms. Fung Ling Chang, 68 is a walking advertisement for senior center attendance.
A native of Taiwan, she came to New York City in l972. She married and opened a jewelry store in lower Manhattan, commuting every day from her home on Long Island. For almost 35 years she suffered a multitude of health problems. It wasn’t until she began attending the Benjamin Rosenthal Innovative Senior Center (45-25 Kissena Boulevard) in Flushing, Queens a year ago – having moved to the City because she could no longer drive – that she managed a lifestyle change that has made all the difference.
Now she says of her former lifestyle: “When I was young, all I did was to make money. When I retired all my money went to hospitals and doctors.”
She would enjoy junk food dinners late at night, after working all day. Overweight, with a puffy face and body, she had a variety of aging-associated diseases - diabetes, high cholesterol high blood pressure, and arthritis. She experienced three strokes. Her memory suffered and her doctors told her she had dementia.
By the time she retired, Ms. Chang was spending a thousand dollars a month on medications. “The more medication I took, the sicker I was. People suggested to me to travel around the world, which I did but still did not feel well.”
Focusing on her disabilities, her doctors were dismissive of her chances for health. She felt belittled by their “you can’t” message.
Finally, she found a doctor who encouraged her to try the Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center.. “The food there is healthy for you,” he said. She began attending the center, which offers many exercise classes, in March, 2013. At the beginning she could not finish even a 30 minute workout without panting.
But she persevered, taking every physical activity on Ben Rosenthal’s schedule – Tai Chi, video exercises, quigong, yoga, line dance, ping pong, walking club. She also participated in a Chronic Disease Self-Management Program - an evidence-based series of workshops developed by Stanford University and offered by many New York City senior centers - that teaches persons with chronic disease better health management. Building her stamina, she lost 25 pounds in ten months.
She also developed new eating habits. At the center, she eats a late, healthy lunch that features fresh vegetables and fruits, low-fat milk non-fat yogurt, whole wheat bread, brown rice and lean meats as her main meal of the day. “No more fatty, oily foods!,” she says.
Mrs. Chang feels good about herself, is sleeping better and taking pride in her improving health. Instead of spending $1,000 a month on medicines, her medical expenses are down to $100 a month. Her health lab reports and other follow-ups are showing improvement. Her doctor is amazed. “You’re so much different,” he says.
On a very cold February 8th, Mrs. Chang marched with the banner-carriers for the Benjamin Rosenthal Center in an hour-long parade honoring the Chinese New Year. Healthier and happier than she’d felt for a long time, she smiled and waved to the cheering crowds on the sidewalk.
“Every day is a happy day now,” she says.
- Photo by Richard Henry