FARGO - Susan Peterson is more active at 62 years old than she was at 26.
The Fargo woman spends two or three hours a day at the gym five days a week.
“I just got addicted to it I guess,” she said.
Peterson is part of a growing number of seniors taking group fitness classes to stay active and improve their physical and mental health.
Seniors are looking for fun classes where they can exercise with people of the same age and fitness level, said Amy Wallach, who owns Elements women’s health club in Fargo.
“A lot of baby boomers now want to be physically fit,” she said. “They want to have the right weight. They want to keep stress under control, keep their energy levels up and prevent illness and falling.”
Peterson takes a variety of classes, including Gold N Fit and SilverSneakers, targeted toward seniors at the Family Wellness center in Fargo.
Gold N Fit is a low-impact cardiovascular class. SilverSneakers MSROM (muscular strength range of motion) is focused on improving strength and range of motion.
Part of Peterson’s interest in the classes is the social aspect, she said. She’s met a lot of people with whom she now sees outside of class.
“Since I’ve retired it keeps me very, very busy,” she said.
But she also feels better both physically and emotionally when she exercises, Peterson said.
“I have four grandchildren to keep up with,” she said.
Peterson started exercising seven or eight years ago after a bone-density scan revealed three weak spots.
Her latest scan came back normal, she said.
Karla Hensrud-Wagner, Group Fitness Manager for Family Wellness said it’s important for seniors to stay active because a sedentary lifestyle can cause problems with stiffness through the joints and muscles.
“Their muscles and their tendons become less elastic, and they’re not able to move around or get up and
down as well,” she said. “In exercising they are able to maintain or gain strength, keep more range of motion in their joints, and they’re able to perform daily activities with ease.”
When older people are unable to complete tasks on their own it’s usually because of inactivity, not just age, according to the National Institutes of Health Senior Health website.
Regular exercise can reduce doctor visits, use of medication, feelings of depression and stress. It can also help with cognitive function, balance, high blood pressure and arthritis, the group says.
Keith Gunderson of Moorhead, who said he’s just short of 70 years old, was recovering from a broken hand when he joined the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties.
After trying a SilverSneakers class, something really surprising happened, he said.
“After the class, I felt so good and so relaxed I couldn’t believe it,” he said.
The Y offers four SilverSneakers classes and Gunderson has taken them all, he said.
In addition to the MSROM class, the Y also offers Cardio Circuit, YogaStretch, which focuses on increasing flexibility, balance and range of movement, and SilverSplash, a water exercise class.
Gunderson liked the classes so much he became certified to teach them.
“It’s a fantastic program,” he said, adding it’s also an excellent way to recover from illnesses and injuries.
When Gunderson started taking the classes, he couldn’t stand on one leg. Now even though one leg is still weaker than the other, he can balance on it, he said.
Gunderson started teaching the classes a little more than two years ago. At first, he would have 25 to 30 students in a class. Now there are usually more than 40 people per class, he said. His students range in age from 50 to 90 years old.
“It’s a lot better to exercise than it is to sit in front of the TV,” he said. “It makes you feel so good.”
Lorrie Carlson is a SilverSneakers national trainer and instructor at the YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties.
She said one of the reasons SilverSneakers classes are so popular is the group classes offer a friendly place to start working out for people who have never before gone into a fitness center.
“For people who are looking for a pill to stop that aging process, I always say they’re barking up the wrong tree,” Carlson said. “Exercise truly is the key to longevity.”
LoAnn Dybing of Fargo, who is in her 70s, started exercising seven years ago because she just wanted to get out of the house, she said.
Now she takes three different classes at Family Wellness and likes everything about them, she said.
While she takes classes five days a week for at least an hour each day, she said she doesn’t get tired.
“Once you adapt to the demands of the class, it’s energizing,” Dybing said. “The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is to go to these classes.”
Classes for seniors have a smaller range of motion and are less strenuous than other classes. Instructors are also taught to modify movements to cater to medical issues older adults might have, Hensrud-Wagner said.
Family Wellness plans to add a Tai Chi class in late February. The Arthritis Foundation is a big advocate of Tai Chi, which focuses on core strength, balance, coordination and joint mobility, Hensrud-Wagner said.
Both the Y and Family Wellness also offer Zumba Gold – a Zumba dance fitness class for older adults.
By: Tracy Frank