Seniors find road to better health through exercise

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 2, 2003

No matter what age you start considering yourself a senior, most fitness gurus agree that the senior years are not too late to start a fitness program.

Dora and Charles Olsson, 68 and 70 respectively, started working out at the Greenville YMCA seven years ago, and have been going strong ever since.

Charles participates in water and step aerobics and works out in the fitness room at the lcoal facility at least three times a week. His fitness room workout includes doing repetitions on the fitness machines and free weights, riding the stationary bike for five minutes and running on the treadmill for three miles.

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He also walks for 30 minutes each morning.

&uot;I wouldn’t call myself a health buff, but I enjoy it and believe it helps me,&uot; Charles said.

His wife, Dora, isn’t quite as &uot;gung-ho&uot; as her husband, but also enjoys her workouts at the YMCA.

&uot;I usually participate in the step and water aerobics because I really enjoy those,&uot; Dora said. &uot;I also join Charles for his walks when it’s not too hot.&uot;

Greenville YMCA Executive Director Amanda Phillips said her organization also has programs for seniors with health problems.

&uot;If they are healthy, they can do anything we have in the fitness room,&uot; Phillips said. &uot;But if they have health restrictions, we can work with their doctors to design a fitness program tailored just for them.&uot;

Phillips said the YMCA has seven members right now who are under a doctor’s guidelines.

The director said the center also has programs designed for those who need rehabilitation due to illness or other health problems.

&uot;This is a very beneficial program,&uot; Phillips said. &uot;We have just finished helping a burn patient from Evergreen. His doctor set up a physical therapy program for him that will increase his upper body strength and other areas of his body that were burned.&uot;

She said that the YMCA worked through the man’s doctor and insurance program to set up his four-month workout.

&uot;He was not a member here,&uot; Phillips said. &uot;But we were a facility close enough for him to come to. He now has ‘graduated,’ as his doctor put it, so he’s finished.&uot;

Phillips said the burn patient was the second non-member health case her facility has worked with.

&uot;The other one was a heart patient who worked out here for four months because she couldn’t drive all the way to Montgomery for her rehabilitation,&uot; she said. &uot;Many find that coming here and paying our membership fee is cheaper than driving somewhere else five times a week.&uot;

Phillips said that many older people don’t have anyone to drive them or simply don’t want to make the drive to Montgomery every day, so they are grateful to have a facility in town they can use.

Located on the Greenville bypass, Curves for Women offers an alternative fitness program for senior women seeking a way to get in shape.

For Glenda Fritz, 68, the Curves facility was the answer to her prayers.

&uot;I was a mess,&uot; Fritz said. &uot;I couldn’t walk easily because I was afraid of falling, and I had to have help every time I tried to get out of a chair. I just felt miserable.&uot;

The retired schoolteacher said it took coaxing from her older brother, who offered to pay her membership fees, to get her to finally sign up.

&uot;I have two sisters who go to Curves facilities where they live (one in Texas, the other in Montgomery), and they kept telling me how much improvement they had seen in their physical lives,&uot; Fritz said. &uot;When my brother asked me to go, I agreed because I really wanted to go.&uot;

After working out for a couple of weeks, Fritz said she saw a vast improvement in her mobility.

&uot;At first I couldn’t do but one or two of the machines, and I didn’t do them well,&uot; she said. &uot;But after a short time, I started feeling better and was able to get up and down by myself. I could walk without being afraid I would fall. I just felt marvelous – better than I’d felt in years.&uot;

Curves for Women owner Karen Higgins said that many people have the misconception that fitness programs are just for losing weight or building muscle. But she said that’s not true for her facility.

&uot;We just want people to improve their lives through fitness,&uot; Higgins said. &uot;We have several targets, from improving mobility to cardiovascular health.&uot;

She said that her clients can work at their own pace, and are never pushed.

&uot; Each individual goes at their own pace, does what they can do and builds from there,&uot; she said. &uot;As you get older, you slow down and don’t do as much. Your metabolism slows down, so therefore the mobility isn’t what it used to be.&uot;

Higgins said her facility offers a program that calls for using nine different fitness machines.

&uot;They use each machine for 30 seconds, then rotate to another machine, with running pads in between each machine where they run in place for 30 seconds. But if they can’t do that right off, it’s okay. We even offer a free workout to anyone who wants to come by and check out our program.&uot;

Fritz said the program has had a bonus for her – she lost weight and inches.

&uot;That’s not what I came here for, but it’s great to see I’ve done that also,&uot; she said. &uot;After two months, I’ve lost three pounds and 14 inches.&uot;

Fritz said she has signed up initially for one year, but plans to continue with the program long after that.

&uot;Karen and her mother, Betty, have helped me so much,&uot; she said. &uot;They are very supportive. They watch what I’m doing and if I’m doing something wrong, they gently show me how to do it correctly, without pressuring me. This is something I plan on doing for a long time. I think it’s the best thing to keep me going.&uot;

Higgins has been in business for three years, and said that about 30 percent of her membership are over 60.

Higgins pointed out that it doesn’t take long to see improvements once someone starts the program.

&uot;If you do the program for three days a week, at least 30 minutes a session, you can see improvement in two weeks,&uot; she said.

Other health problems that can be improved with fitness programs are obesity, diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Higgins said that fitness centers offer the advantage of climate-controlled environments that appeal to older members.

&uot;They would rather come in here and work out than have to deal with the heat or cold outside,&uot; she said.

Higgins said the main benefit of a fitness program for seniors is the cardiovascular aspect.

&uot;They have shortness of breath, and if your heart and lungs aren’t strong enough, they will not carry the rest of you around,&uot; she said. &uot;Exercise just makes you feel better.&uot;