Almost everyone can agree that seniors should get out and exercise to retain their mobility.
But for a group of seniors that gathers three times a week to circle the gym at the First Church of the Nazarene on Spokane’s north side, it’s more than that. The fellowship and jovial camaraderie they share brings nearly as many benefits as the walking.
The class has quadrupled in size in the last six months and seniors don’t have to belong to the church to participate.
“I’m stronger and a little bit happier,” says Ed Kennedy, 66, who comes to the sessions with his wife, Jan.
The regular gatherings help many people combat loneliness and depression, as well as provide motivation and support. The class can also have an impact on overall health.
“I feel stronger and just healthier,” says Jan Kennedy, 63. “We haven’t had as many illnesses this winter as in previous winters.”
The Kennedys live in Suncrest, a 30-minute drive from the church. They originally planned to come once or twice to see how to do the exercises, but the class is so good that they keep making the long drive three times a week. “We feel it’s worth it,” says Jan.
More than 60 people ranging from age 44 to 84 gather every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. to walk and do stretching exercises. People can adjust their walking speed and the difficulty of the exercises to match their fitness level. The class is low impact, with most of the stretching exercises being done while sitting in a chair.
The seniors are enthusiastic in their promotion of the program, citing people who started walking with canes and walkers and now don’t need them.
The group, which calls itself “The Classic Collection,” began meeting in September with about 15 people, and the program has grown steadily as people learn about it. The class is led by Rhonda Knutson, a retired physical education teacher who is in her 60s. She studied nutrition at Casper Community College in Wyoming and tries to offer her class tips on how to lead healthier lives.
Knutson agrees that the friendship the seniors share is an important part of their progress. “The fellowship is phenomenal,” says Knutson. “People need people. Nutrition, exercise and fellowship is a complete picture.”
Barbara Pugh, 68, enjoys walking, but finds it difficult to do in the winter. Now it’s the companionship that she comes for as much as the exercise. “That’s what makes it such fun,” says Pugh. “I have so much more energy after I come here and walk.”
As in all exercise programs, warming up and cooling down is important, but all the more so for seniors. No one knows that better than Lyle Pugh, 73, a retired coach. “We exercise correctly” he says. “Everything’s done the way it should be.”
Perhaps the best thing about the class is that it’s free and available to everyone. It offers an alternative to expensive health clubs. “This is a wonderful opportunity for those who financially can’t afford those clubs,” says walker Vilta Tifft, 71.
With an eye toward serving even more people, the group started offering a new exercise class this week that meets from 5 to 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday, and from 9 to 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays. The class is geared toward those who work or have other obligations during the day.
The group is also planning a seminar on March 14, that will feature Kathy Cope, a nurse who will speak about various wellness issues relevant to seniors. The workshop will be from 9 to 10:30 a.m. at the church, located at 9004 N. Country Homes Blvd. A continental breakfast will be served.
Knutson plans to invite other churches to send people to the seminar, although participants don’t have to be a member of any church to attend the seminar or the exercise classes.
Both classes and the seminar are free and open to all. For more information about the program, call Knutson at 468-8662 or Donna Kowen at 326-8543.
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MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: SEVEN KEY EXERCISES FOR SENIORS Seniors should do exercises that target the specific muscles needed for their everyday activities, such as bending over to tie shoes or getting up out of a chair. The following exercises are suggested by Mary Ann Wilson of Spokane, a registered nurse and certified fitness instructor who hosts the nationally syndicated “Sit and Be Fit” program that airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on KSPS-TV Channel 7. Upper legs: Sit with feet together, flat on the floor. Extend the lower leg, lift slightly, and tighten the muscles around the kneecap. Calf muscles: Extend the leg with only the heel resting on the floor. Lean forward gently from the hip. Lower legs: Sit with feet flat on the floor. Pull the toes up as high as you can while heels remain on the floor. Upper body: Do arm curls with a can of food or a 1 pound bag of beans. Posture: Reach up with both arms to the ceiling, bend arms and pull elbows down and back while squeezing shoulder blades together. Balance: Stand behind the chair, using it for balance, and stand on one foot, holding the position. For added difficulty do one or more of the following - close your eyes, reach up toward the ceiling with one hand, or bring your heel off the floor. Hands: Touch your index finger to your thumb, forming a circle. Repeat with other fingers. Then, with palm facing outward, bring your thumb across the palm and try to touch the base of the little finger.