Henry Tseng was doing yoga headstands in his 80s and 6:30 a.m. dance aerobics in his 90s. At 111 years old, he’s still kickin’, breaking a sweat on a recumbent bike for 30 minutes every day at the Collins & Katz Family YMCA in Sawtelle.
What’s his secret? He gets that question a lot.
His tips for longevity are no big surprise. Most of them are cliches. But he shares them freely, and he thinks you can use them too.
He’s always moving
Tseng, a YMCA member since 1978, is somewhat of a local celebrity. Every day at 3 p.m., he climbs out of his wheelchair on his own to sit on his favorite exercise bike, which he pedals for half an hour.
“The older you are, the more you need exercise,” Tseng said, adding that he doesn’t feel old, and he doesn’t count his years.
A retired entrepreneur, Tseng has been active for his entire life, said his daughter, Linda Hsia. When he was younger, he enjoyed swimming and outdoor sports. As he got older, he adapted to his abilities by choosing different activities at the YMCA.
“He was the motivation for getting up, even for me to get in there and teach the class,” said Michelle Dodson, the assistant director of Healthy Lifestyles at the Collins & Katz Family YMCA. She teaches a 6:30 a.m. adult fitness class three times a week, and she said Tseng never missed it before he turned 100.
“He was the core of the class. You couldn’t say in that class, ‘Well, I’m getting old.’ That would go out the window.”
When Tseng isn’t working out, he’s still moving, doing simple yoga poses in his chair and squeezing stress balls to strengthen his grip.
He eats what he wants, but…
He keeps junk to a minimum, and he lives by the old adage, “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.”
Tseng’s breakfast is certainly king size. He eats half a grapefruit, half a banana, bread with butter and jam, two soft-boiled eggs, half a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, a cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. He takes his meal at a leisurely pace, reading the newspaper and watching television.
“Can you believe that?” said one of his caretakers, Carol Puial, who cooks his meals and drives him to his workouts.
Puial changes things up each day for lunch, which she said is easy because Tseng isn’t picky. Sometimes it’s Italian, Chinese or Mexican. He loves spaghetti and burgers, which Puial usually makes from scratch. If they do go out, McDonald’s is his first choice.
His dinners are simple and easy to swallow: soup, omelets, ground beef, pulled pork or baked chicken.
“I only eat 70% full,” said Hsia, repeating one of her father’s sayings.
Tseng takes a basic multivitamin, and he doesn’t cut any foods out of his diet. The only things off limits are alcohol, cigarettes and drugs.
He hangs out in the sunshine
Weather permitting, Tseng and his caretakers go to Holmby Park in Westwood, where Tseng enjoys the sunshine for an hour or two after his workout.
“I like fresh air,” Tseng said. “More trees, more open sky and not too many people.”
It’s a quiet ritual, except for when bus tour guides, who drive past the park and recognize Tseng, point him out to their tour groups. “Look, there’s the guy who’s 111!”
After that, they head straight to Starbucks for Tseng’s daily treat: a mocha.
He keeps his chin up
“I’m very positive. Every day. Rain or shine,” Tseng said.
Most people in Tseng’s life — from his relatives to his fellow YMCA members — are struck by his upbeat attitude.
“He loves people. He loves life,” said Ann Samson, executive director of the Collins & Katz Family YMCA. “The fact that his mind is so alert I think has a lot to do with him being active, being around people and engaging in conversation.”
Tseng tells people that one of his secrets to longevity is to smile every day and to never worry.
“I have lots of small troubles like everybody, but I just say, ‘forget about it,’” Tseng said. “Nothing is impossible.”
He helps others
Tseng has supported multiple fundraisers at the YMCA, such as the Kids-to-Camp Campaign and the Community Support Campaign. He was the president of the Hong Kong Rotary Club before moving to Los Angeles in 1975, and he’s been involved in the Westwood Rotary Club for 40 years.
“I like to help people,” Tseng said. “This is my job: to exist only useful.”
In 1996, he helped found the YMCA’s P.L.U.S.S. Program, a support group and exercise plan for people with Parkinson’s disease.