Friday, June 17, 2011

Sweatin' with the Oldies and Disabled in my Senior Exercise Class

Today I went to my exercise class.
I’ve been going religiously since January. It’s a habit that’s been easy to fall into.
For months, maybe years, I’d been seeing a notice in the local paper about “functional fitness” classes at the local senior center. It included a one-hour low impact class and if you weren’t ready for that, a 30-minute chair exercise class. Anyone “50 plus” could join. While I don’t consider myself a senior, I was definitely eligible.
Before my cancer came back three years ago, I belonged to the YMCA, gleefully  jumping and jogging (something I can’t do on land) in an aquatic class for arthritic and challenged adults. And when I couldn’t make that class, I did enjoy the 30-minute chair class next door. It was tough and everyone but me could stand up without aid. 
But when I got sick again, I had to quit the Y. After more chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, I was exercising at home for years. I decided to branch out.
I am so glad I did. Three times a week, I go to the senior center, twice for the chair class: cost $1, and, recently, once a week to the low-impact class, $3.
I absolutely love it.
In addition to burning calories, I’ve gained some precious friends and a new vision of the golden years.
I look forward to coming three times a week. I miss my old buddies when I can’t make it. And I worry about them when they’re absent.
When I returned from my first class, my son asked me if it was depressing and if “it smelled like death.”
Far from it.
By 8:30 a.m., the drop-in center is a vibrant place. Coffee is brewing, sweet breakfast treats are set out. Men play pool. Other fellows sit on the porch and chat. One volunteer staffs the “trips” desk, Another, in her 90s, buzzes about early each morning organizing silverware, cups, tables and chairs for lunch. On Fridays, a senior band plays at lunchtime in the same room where we exercise. The guys wear fancy clothes and start hauling in their instruments while we are winding up our class, often with a dance step or flirtatious wink as they walk in.
I am one of the youngest people in my chair class. It numbers 30 to 40 people, mostly women. Many are as disabled as I am, some better, some worse. Many have walkers, a few have canes and some are in wheelchairs. I know most people’s names and some caregivers’ names. And I am greeted by name when I arrive.

The women I have met in the chair class are the opposite of Maxine, the crabby old gal of Hallmark card fame. They get up, get dressed up (no sweats for these chicks), some put on lipstick and pearls. Some drive with friends or husbands, some ride public transportation, several come with their paid caregivers. And they have smiles on their faces.
I made a friend the first day. Gloria, 88, is a lovely lady with the sweetest, friendliest face. While she still misses her late husband desperately, she said she has made a choice to have a positive outlook. “Why not?” she says.
So do many others, including Eunice, who at age 90 is just a gorgeous lady with a permanent welcoming smile. I worried about her when she was absent for a week, but when she returned, she said she’d been to Vegas.
There are greetings, hugs and handclasps before the exercise begins. Everyone  wishes each other a good morning and someone usually announces, “We made it another day!”
And that alone is a reason to smile.
This morning, my new friend Julie, closer to my age,  who was taking the low-impact class for the third time, said she loved the workout, but particularly the people. 
“Everyone is so nice!” she said.
It’s that striking. How many people view exercise as a solitary endeavor, putting in their headphones and gazing at the TV while they walk or run on the treadmill? How many dread going to the gym? How many get to know the folks they work out with?
I’ll take my senior center exercise class any day. It’s fun and uplifting and heartwarming.
And, oh yeah, it’s good exercise.

1 comment:

  1. Amen to the "Why Not?" - she's on to something. Something I learned watching my dad fight for each day, each year was to celebrate EVERY birthday. I promised him I would never be "one of those" women who won't tell their age. (It's a little different as I'm closer to the top of the hill than the bottom but I will keep my promise). I just love your portrait of the ladies. We should all be so blessed to enjoy the Golden Years, as you put it. Ha! I just got a vision of the television show "Golden Girls" - a show my dad LOVED. :-)