By: Kim Thomas
Ah, the golden years. You have worked your tail off for the past 30-40 years so that you could sit back and enjoy these well-earned,work-free days. Yes, your mind is ready for some respite. But how do you ensure that your body won’t betray you? We all know the age-old saying “Use it or lose it.”
We are very fortunate to live in an area that offers countless ways to “use it” so we don’t “lose it.” According to the National Center for Chronic Disease and Health Promotion (http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/sgr/olderad.htm), “The loss of strength and stamina attributed to aging is in part caused by reduced physical activity. Inactivity increases with age. By age 75, about one in three men and one in two women engage in no physical activity.”
Where can you go to increase your activity level? Many local gyms offer classes designed specifically for you, as a senior. These classes encourage and teach about healthy lifestyles, with the understanding that staying active is physically, and often emotionally challenging. Don’t be afraid to be creative when exploring your options. There are many fun ways to keep fit: senior swimming classes, weights and strength training, water aerobics classes, yoga classes, and senior walking groups that can be found throughout the Bay Area. Two fun options, of which you may be unaware, are Chair Zumba and Chair Yoga.
Have you considered fine-tuning your dancing skills and learning Zumba? (Zumba is an aerobic exercise inspired by Latin dancing and Latin music.) Chair Zumba uses seated routines that are usually modifications of standing routines. These include arm and leg work, sometimes both at the same time, depending on the energy and ability levels of the members. Lisa Leonard teaches these classes at Brookdale Senior Living Center, among other locations. She reminds us that you don’t have to be a good dancer or have great coordination to enjoy Chair Zumba. “Just join in and be part of the excitement. If you’re having fun, you’re getting a workout.” She advises her members to listen to their bodies and do only what feels right. If she thinks that it is getting too intense and the members may be working out of their ability, they bring the energy level down by doing less laborious moves, like clapping in a circle. If high hands are not comfortable, they keep them at shoulder level or lower. Lisa keeps her playlist pretty consistent, as it is easier for participants to remember and follow repetitive moves. They dance to Calypso, Latin, Bollywood, and Top 40 music. And they do notice if she omits a song. One participant told me, “I notice it every time she skips the Chocolate song!”
Yoga focuses on strength training and flexibility. In Chair Yoga, the chair becomes the mat, allowing for individuals who have less flexibility to enjoy the benefits of Yoga. Instead of bending all the way down to a mat, the chair is used as a stopping point. Participants start out by sitting and then stand and use the chair to assist with stretches. For example, in the tree pose, one hand is placed on a chair for support. Some people use two chairs, one on each side, for greater assistance. Everyone has personal goals in Chair Yoga because flexibility range is unique to each individual and these goals evolve over the course of weeks, months and years.
Lisa, who started teaching Chair Zumba and Chair Yoga classes at Brookdale, has this to say of her experience: “They are like family. I love the ladies and gentlemen that come to my classes. We have so much fun! We get to know each other and after class, we talk about our days and they tell me what activities they have planned. It is the brightest part of everyone’s day. Whatever is going on is left at the door. It’s all about them and having fun. When they leave, they are ready to pick back up with their day, but they’re just a little bit stronger and more energized to handle it.”
And the feeling is mutual. Virginia Baugh added, “I enjoy the class very much. It helps me a lot and it’s a nice way to start the day.” Another regular, Molly Warner, agreed.“I get a happy feeling when I’m here and I know that I’m getting the exercise that I need, which helps my disposition.”