First there was Colonel Tom walking laps for the NHS, then we had Dabirul Islam Choudhury fundrasing while fasting for Ramadan — and now, adding to the list of inspirational people from the older generation keeping Britain motivated during the coronavirus pandemic, Rajinder Singh has been showing off how to stay fit at home in lockdown.
The 73-year-old retired bus driver from west London has found himself unexpectedly in the limelight after posting a series of videos showing people how to skip — all while raising money for the NHS, encouraging almost £12,000 in donations so far.
The sprightly pensioner was passionate about exercise and keeping healthy before the pandemic, regularly running for charity and joining Park Run for an organised 5km jog every Saturday.
But now he’s using that interest to inspire others in his generation and community to do the same, after receiving a huge response online.
Global Citizen spoke to Singh and his daughter Min Kaur, who has been helping to film and upload his workouts to YouTube .
“I have always exercised and done things for charity, but in lockdown we decided to put some of the exercises I was doing online to show others what they could do too – my daughter encouraged me, she said it could help other people,” Singh says. “I agreed. I wanted to show people that you can stay active in lockdown.”
His daughter explained that she started to realise how isolated older people could become as lockdown began. The government advised people over 70 and those with underlying health conditions to “shield” — meaning going out as little as possible and getting food delivered to their homes.
“I spoke to my friends who have parents or grandparents living with them at home, and even though they were together in the same house, they were spending time in separate rooms to keep them safe,” Kaur said. “I thought it was all a bit sad and depressing.”
Kaur also worried that many people would resort to staying on the sofa all day and eating unhealthy food, affecting both their physical and mental health.
But her father was determined to keep his spirits up — he couldn’t go for runs anymore but was still skipping every day. So Kaur filmed one of Singh’s sessions, put it on Twitter, and it quickly got over 35,000 views. They’ve since built a lively community of followers on YouTube and across social media, using the hashtag #skippingsikh — with his story featured on the BBC and international outlets such as CNN and Al Jazeera.
Skipping challenge begins now! Anyone up for a challenge please skip for as long as you can and tweet me. This is my dad aged 73! His message to everyone is stay fit, healthy and safe! #TheLockdown#StaySafe#StayAtHome#Covid_19@BBCLondonNews@itvlondon@Channel4@SkyNewspic.twitter.com/owbOk6chYh— Min Kaur (@minkaur5) March 30, 2020
Singh explains that he likes skipping because it’s simple to do inside the house or in the garden. “You just get a rope and you don’t need a lot of space to start skipping,” he says.
“I skip daily between five and 20 minutes of interval skipping as it’s a great cardio workout," he adds. "In lockdown this is the best form of exercise as it’s easy to learn and do.”
Some of the workouts show other ways to keep active at home, like lifting makeshift weights, such as watering cans filled with water and other household items. Singh’s wife, Pritpal, has featured in some of them too.
“The younger generation are showing them to their parents and grandparents, and they’ve also been shown on the British-Asian TV channels, so more people saw them on TV and got in touch,” says Kaur.
“People have sent us so many messages online saying they are learning to skip now. During a time of doom and gloom, it’s felt really positive to have motivated people,” Kaur adds.
The pair explain that it has also been a good way to connect with the Sikh community online too, as of course during lockdown people can no longer gather to worship weekly.
“We would normally gather at the Gurdwara and the elderly would go there regularly,” Kaur explains. “It has a kitchen and food is available throughout the day, and as they aren’t working that would be their time to meet people from the community and socialise.”
Kaur adds that it is helpful for people in their community to relate to her dad. “He’s not Joe Wicks – some of the exercises are not that intense – and it’s not professional, but it doesn’t need to be, it’s just about having fun and encouraging people to stay active,” she says.
“And it just adds something, if somebody sees someone like them exercising then it makes them want to try it – they’ll engage because it’s someone from their community," she continues.
As the UK starts to ease lockdown measures, many older people will continue to practice social distancing because of the continued potential risk to their health, and many have been strongly advised to continue to do so by doctors.
So Singh and Kaur say they will continue with their videos and keep up the momentum amid their new virtual community.
“I’m really humbled by the response I have got and thank everyone out there who’s supported the fundraiser and felt inspired by my exercises and has started to do exercise,” Singh says of his lockdown project. “I’m truly thankful to those who have shown me so much love.”