Seniors strive for fitness
Age is mind over matter…if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. – Mark Twain
The famous quote above by Mark Twain truly represents the philosophy of the home owners at Traditions at River Oaks, a community of over-55 active seniors.
Since August 2013, a group of more than 30 seniors have met twice a week to lift weights, work on balance, flexibility and just have a good time while getting stronger and fit in the process.
Their ages range from 55 to the spry 90-year-old Bonnie Meyer.
Classes meet every week on Monday and Wednesday, with the 9 a.m. class designed for “active” seniors and a 10:15 class for seniors who need the assistance of a chair. Each class at Traditions begins with a warm-up, followed by a full-body workout, and finishes with stretching and flexibility exercises. Emphasis is placed on strengthening the legs, back and hips as well as improving balance.
So what motivates this group of people dealing with numerous physical challenges – ranging from arthritis, bad knees, hip and shoulder replacements as well as those recovering from back surgery, to mention just a few – to take part in classes each week?
As Lori Stinchfield states, “Twenty-five years of playing tennis has taken a toll on my knees. Since taking the class I feel better, stronger and sleep more soundly.”
Years of research has shown that after the age of 30, inactivity contributes to muscle loss at a rate of 3-5 percent every 10 years; this rate doubles after the age of 50. In short, the less muscle mass you have, the more likely you are to gain fat since the absence of muscle means that your body is using less energy.
Shirley Sevastacis regularly attends the 10:15 class and finds that since joining the class her arthritic pain level has decreased. Her arms are stronger and her back feels more limber. As her balance improves she is working on getting strong enough to walk with her 3-month-old grandson.
This is especially beneficial for Shirley as well as other seniors. Fear of falling is a key contributor to seniors limiting their physical activities. As a result, that fear leads to seniors becoming less active. The less active we are, the less physically fit we become. Ironically, this only increases the likelihood of falling.
Lynn, also a 10:15 member, states, “After having a total knee replacement, I feel the need to improve my strength and balance. I enjoy the group and its fun.”
Ginger Hardwick, 77, sustained a severe laceration to her leg two years ago. Her leg injury has hampered her walking and limited her previously-active lifestyle. However, she states, “Since starting the class I have noticed that my walking has improved and the exercises make me feel stronger.”
Bonnie Meyer and her sister, Donna, regularly attend the 10:15 class. Bonnie recently turned 90 and has no intention of slowing down, despite having spinal stenosis and a rod and pin in her hip.
During World War II, Bonnie was as a Communications and Supply Sergeant serving in the Army as a member of the Women’s Army Corps. Despite her demure height, under 5 feet, Bonnie brings her military grit and determination to each and every class she attends. She works hard and inspires the younger class members with her energy and willingness to push herself to her limit.
Bonnie states, “I began walking after my husband had a heart attack.” That was in 1975. Bonnie is still going strong.
Even if you haven’t been active all your life, it is never too late to start. According the American Academy of Family Physicians, “Regular exercise protects against chronic disease, improves mood and lowers chances of injury.”
One benefit of regular exercise is the prevention of loss of bone mass. As we age, we lose bone mass, which can ultimately lead to osteoporosis, causing the bones to become porous and brittle. A benefit of weight-bearing exercise is the increase of bone mass as well as a lower risk of falling and breaking a bone.
Linda Markey attends the 9 a.m. class and joined after being diagnosed with osteoporosis; she also suffers from chronic neck and upper-back pain. She states, “Increased activity makes you feel better mentally and physically – you feel more alive and happy. I was never a gym person; getting together with the other seniors is fun and gives me a feeling of accomplishment.”
Seventy-year-old Susan joined the class because she desperately wanted to become stronger and avoid a double-knee replacement and said, “Being active is so important to prevent being bedridden too early in life.” Susan also stresses that it important to her to have an instructor who knows when not to push too hard. She states, “[After class] I do hurt a little, but within a few hours it goes away and it is really worth the effort and benefit.”
One of the most important elements contributing to the success of an exercise program is that of consistency – having a personal trainer or belonging to a group can be of great benefit to the overall success of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Making exercise fun is the key to adherence. Patricia Alexander, 61, states that “I hate the E-word (exercise). Rather, I like to think of exercise simply as ‘activity.’” Belonging to a group makes “activity” fun because it creates social bonds. Rather than exercising solo you become part of a team. Relationships develop between people because they share a common interest as well as similar fitness goals.
As Linda Hampton states, “I think it is important for seniors to be active because it helps with stress. Oh yes, it is also social time for me.”
So to repeat the question in a different way – What motivates this group to show up every week and work through discomfort in order to improve their fitness levels?
The answer is simple — they had a choice. For some, it may be much easier to say “No” to exercise, but these seniors chose the other option — they chose to say, “Yes”.
The most difficult step towards becoming fit is the first one; let go of whatever it is that is holding you back. Call a friend and go for a walk or find a senior group in your area; most are very reasonably-priced. Form a group and hire a personal trainer to work with you. The more people the more reasonable the fee.
Above all, follow the example of the Traditions seniors. They could have focused on what they could not do and found an excuse to just stay home. Instead they directed their attention to what was possible and tried something new.
For many people, along with age comes an enthusiasm to strive for that which can be achieved and the wisdom to know that which cannot. Learn to focus on your strong points and respect and work around your limitations. The horizon is endless and the achievements are there for the taking. It just takes getting out of your comfort zone and saying a resounding “YES” to your future.
Deborah Blossom–Miles, Ed.M – is a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Group Exercise Instructor at Traditions. For more information call (805) 550-0090.