By SARA ARTHURS
The woman at 50 North excitedly told the story of reaching down to pick up a book at the library, then standing up without need of assistance. She marveled at the experience, as she never would have been able to do that before she started exercising.
Things younger people take for granted may become more difficult as you get older. But Anna Lee, fitness and wellness manager at 50 North, and Francie Kasmarek, fitness and wellness director, have heard a lot of stories like this.
“It’s just amazing, the stories we get to hear,” Kasmarek said.
Seniors might get off of their blood pressure medications entirely, or no longer have to use their walker. They might be stronger getting off the couch, or more able to play with their grandchildren.
But many of them haven’t exercised in the past. The biggest barrier? “Letting people realize they can do it,” Kasmarek said.
They are often nervous when they first come in, Lee said: “They’re afraid they’re going to hurt themselves.”
But they gradually become more comfortable.
Often, they first come in following an injury or the diagnosis of an illness.
Kasmarek said if they come in following hip surgery, a recumbent bicycle won’t work for them, but other equipment could. And, she said, there are so many different pieces of equipment to choose from.
Lee said many people come in after cardiac rehab, as their doctors want them to keep active to prevent another heart attack. Kasmarek said diet, too, plays a role.
When planning exercise for seniors, one goal is to ensure they can get in and out of the area easily, meaning it has to be wheelchair or walker accessible.
Seniors might not be able to do what they could in their 20s, but they can in fact build strength, Lee said. And the more you sit and do nothing, the more your muscles atrophy.
Even with Parkinson’s, “you can’t reverse it, but you can help slow it down,” Lee said.
The women have found an exercise plan also helps with depression. The exercise itself helps, Lee said, but seniors also find it’s a social outlet.
Kasmarek and Lee have seen challenges in their work: sometimes a person needs medical care they can’t provide, or their health goes downhill. And members who once came regularly have died. But both women, who have also helped younger people to exercise, said working with seniors is particularly rewarding.
“It’s just building their confidence,” Kasmarek said. “They should be proud of themselves.”
“I love hearing their stories,” Lee said.
Marc Washington, 70, exercises regularly at 50 North. He is a heart attack and stroke survivor, and was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. After that diagnosis he was encouraged to join the Delay the Disease program at 50 North, which he said has been “uplifting.”
Staff members are positive, “and they work us,” making the program challenging, he said.
The exercises are specific to Parkinson’s and include a lot of stretching and balancing, as well as work to improve coordination. As balance is an issue for those with Parkinson’s, they work to prevent falls. Some of the people use a walker, so the exercises are designed to be “things that they can still do.”
After exercise, some of the group have gathered together for lunch upstairs at 50 North, which is common among those who utilize the gym there. They talk about their experiences, and Washington said others have shared with him how they handled similar situations, or share websites and apps that have helped them.
“We all encourage each other,” he said.
While he has some limitations and things he can no longer do, Washington said life changes, but it’s about how you accept the change. “It’s all about attitude, you know?” You can’t stop Parkinson’s, “but you can slow it down.” Judy Miller started with the SilverSneakers program at 50 North. Now 71, “My goal is to make it to 96.” That’s when her great-grandson will graduate college.
She has found that exercise is making a difference. She fell on the ice this winter, and was able to get herself off the ground. Miller said she functions more like she’s in her 50s than her 70s.
Her advice to other seniors? “They need to come try it. … It makes you feel good that you can still do things.”
And she’s run into people she knew 20 years ago at 50 North.
When Teresa West retired, she didn’t want to “sit at home and do nothing.” She started Aqua Zumba at the YMCA and she now swims there several times a week. She also exercises at 50 North.
Water is easier on her joints, as she has fibromyalgia. West lost 90 pounds since she starting exercising, and has made friends in her classes. Her doctor cut the dosage of her blood pressure medication, and was able to take her off another medication altogether.
Chandlar Henry, program coordinator at the Findlay Family YMCA, said for seniors — or anyone — “it can just be scary” to walk through the doors and not know where to start. She encourages taking a class, so instructors can walk a newcomer through the moves.
It’s important to address loneliness, and some seniors feel a need to “get out of the house,” Henry said. She hears from seniors who have lost a spouse, or are facing an empty nest. Some seniors walk through the door for the first time because they’re contemplating mortality, perhaps having lost friends recently.
Sometimes a doctor orders the patient to exercise, following a health issue like a heart attack or a diabetes diagnosis. It can be “very hard,” but “we hope that they do listen to their doctor,” Henry said.
Henry said some seniors assume a mobility issue will keep them from exercising, but that’s not the case. If you have a bad knee, you can start by exercising your arms, then perhaps stretching the knee, she said. Chair yoga is an option, and some seniors bring their walkers to the Y, holding onto them while standing and doing various leg movements.
The Y offers Enhance Fitness, a program particularly designed for older adults with arthritis.
A new program, LiveStrong, is a 12-week course for both recently diagnosed cancer patients and survivors. While it isn’t designed as a “support group,” it can and often does play that role, Henry said.