Exercises designed for older seniors help with daily living

While you don’t have to drop out of boot camp or stop spinning once you receive your initial AARP invite, there may come a day when you might need to.

Older seniors want a “kinder and gentler” way to stay fit, observes Kristin McEwen, group vice president of Metro Atlanta YMCA.

Atlanta’s older adults are increasingly asking for fitness classes of their own, where they won’t be asked to flex and move body parts that don’t cooperate.

It’s no longer a matter of body sculpting. Many just want to get out of the car and carry in groceries without falling.

“As you get older you lose your balance, especially if you don’t work on it,” said Becky Ragusa, a 72-year-old from Johns Creek. She was waiting for the Fitness 20/20/20 class to begin at Park Place, Johns Creek’s active adult center.

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The class, which includes cardio, strength and balance in 20-minute segments, was designed specifically for seniors by the nationally recognized Healthways SilverSneakers FLEX fitness program. It’s free to participants whose supplemental Medicare insurance will pick up the tab.

While SilverSneakers has been in private gyms and fitness centers for many years, the company is now expanding into public venues with these FLEX classes.

“They’re going into centers where seniors are more comfortable and where they spend most of their time,” said Kirk Franz, manager of the Johns Creek Recreation and Parks Department.

Franz said the city had no problem filling two SilverSneakers FLEX classes this summer and is now adding a third. Seniors love it because it’s free, he said.

This is not your typical workout at the gym. SilverSneakers instructor Cheryl Butler led participants through slow, controlled movements. There were no toe touches, no neck rolls, no quick, jerk-like motions. The fitness routine is choreographed to help with daily living.

For example, lifting hand weights from your knees to your head is like picking up a grandchild and giving them a kiss, Butler said. Throw those weighted hands up over your head and now you’re putting up your groceries.

“I want them to know that what they do will help them in daily life,” she said. “It’s not just gym strength, but it’s for life skills.”

McEwen said seniors throughout the metro Y’s are also asking for classes that will help them maintain daily activities. “They want to remain independent as long as possible, so balance, strength and flexibility are extremely important to them,” she said.

“They’re fearful. They all have friends, or heard about someone, who fell and broke a hip,” McEwen added.

Tai chi, Zumba Gold, Aqua Zumba, chair aerobics, water fitness, along with any class that involves stretching and toning, are all popular offerings for metro seniors.

In Forsyth County, senior services director Michael Bohn put out fliers advertising a new senior fitness opportunity, “Matter of Balance,” an 8-week class designed to alleviate the fear of falling and increase balance. It filled up quickly with folks who don’t normally participate at the county’s senior centers.

“This is a big concern for seniors because they know if they can maintain their balance, they maintain their wellness and they maintain their independence,” Bohn said.

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