Senior Fitness: Leave the Class Laughing

OAKLAND —  St. Joseph Mercy Oakland offers a senior fitness class at 15 locations, three times a week.  Every class is filled to capacity with a waiting list.  Why is this senior fitness class so special?

“I love the class.  I always leave the class laughing.  If I’m not feeling well when I arrive, I’m always feeling better when I leave.  I love the people, the instructor and the facility.  It’s so open and bright,” said 80-year-old Charlene Simmons.  Simmons has been attending the senior fitness class for 10 years.

“Our senior population, as they get into their golden years, often see a reduction in mobility and independence.  The senior fit courses are an opportunity for participants to exercise with  low-impact physical activity and movement.  It also facilitates a cohesive interaction and camaraderie with people in their community and it ultimately reduces isolation,” said David Bowman, MPA, director of community health, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland.

Unique to the senior population, ages 55 and older, bone mass can be reduced as individuals age.  Using low-weights, careful movements, resistance bands and balls helps to reduce wear on ligaments.  The class incorporates floor and chair exercises that build strength and flexibility, as well as improve balance and cardiovascular fitness.

“The class helps me tremendously with my lower back issues.  There are certain exercises that I always look forward to doing.  After the stretches, I don’t have back pain.  The pain may return the next morning, but now I know how to safely stretch my back at home,“ said 67-year-old Beatrice Wright.IMG_1175.JPG

Many class participants have found themselves living more pain-free and healthier lives, since joining the class.  “I had a quadruple heart bypass and I had an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) inserted in 2005.  My doctor said I must remain active.  After cardio rehab and after I retired, this was the class for me.  I recently saw my doctor and my heart has almost gone back to normal; in July they removed the ICD and didn’t replace it!  I’m sure my ability to work my heart muscle is why I have improved so much,” said 63-year-old Sharon Finley.

The results from the senior fitness classes move beyond physical activity.  As with many of St. Joe’s support classes, the camaraderie among participants is a direct result of the holistic approach to health.  The classes address the mental health, physical and social aspects of each person’s well-being.  “Physical activity and interactive programming addresses loneliness, depression and issues with mental health.  Addressing mental health is a high-bar focus of our senior programming,” said Bowman.

Many participants agreed that if they were not in the class, they would not maintain a regular schedule exercising.  Motivation can be difficult to achieve if you are on your own – but it’s not difficult if you have Beatrice Wright in your class.  When Wright sees the need, she leads the class in a motivating chant she created.

“I love the class.  The one thing I’ve learned in life, is not only do you need to remain physical, but in order to feel better, you have to laugh.  If you don’t laugh, your aches and pains will take you over.  I would recommend this class,” said Finley.

The classes are provided September through April on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  Bowman hopes to address the waiting lists for the classes by collaborating with additional community organizations.  He is also considering enhancing the classes by integrating senior yoga into the courses.  “Coupling yoga into the senior fitness class will offer a dual utility.  The cardio combined with stretching and meditation reinforces the holistic approach of health we want to offer our senior population,” said Bowman.

“At 80, you begin to look at life differently.  I try to stay as fit as I can.  I see people who are 80, and some of them are broken down.  I’m trying to avoid that as long as possible, I know I won’t always be able to remain at my current level of fitness, but I’ll try as long as I can,” said Simmon.

About Senior Fit
St. Joseph Mercy Oakland sponsors a free Senior Fit program at 15 locations throughout Oakland County, from September through May.  Geared for adults age 55 and up, Senior Fit is aimed at improving stamina, lowering blood pressure and decreasing the risk of osteoporosis among senior adults through regular exercise. Please click here to view the flyer.

The consent form can be downloaded herePlease click here for Senior Fit orientation information.

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