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Baby Boomers Keep Healthy With Senior Fitness Classes

July 3, 2008

Whether she’s marching to “Copacabana” or dancing to “She’s a Lady,” Elaine Buttenfield keeps herself active.

A member of the Ross Senior Fitness Class for two years, she’s made a choice — and not just to boogie oogie oogie until she just can’t boogie no more.

“We have chosen to be active,” said Buttenfield, 64, of Ross.

As ailments, such as bursitis and arthritis, sideline baby boomers, senior fitness is becoming a more specialized area. Community centers are reaching out to the older set, offering fitness classes from Zumba and aerobics to line dancing and yoga.

Programs generally are offered to both residents and nonresidents of their respective communities. In Monroeville, fitness-minded people 50 and older meet each Monday and Friday to keep themselves moving. They start with a 30-minute aerobic workout to upbeat music ranging from techno versions of one-hit wonders to patriotic tunes, which is followed by a series of resistance exercises.

“A lot of seniors are sedentary, so it’s very important to keep them moving,” said Susan Zdrodowski of Penn Hills, the instructor for the Monroeville program. “It’s about staying young and staying healthy.”

Regular exercise helps prevent bone loss, which reduces the risk of fractures, while increasing muscle strength. Balance and coordination exercises can help decrease the likelihood of falling.

The National Center for Health Statistics reports that 32 percent of people ages 65 and older exercise, with more than 30 percent of people older than 55 walking for exercise.

“The benefits of exercise are endless,” said Diane Heinauer, a North Hills certified personal trainer who oversees senior fitness programs throughout the region. “It’s all about quality of life. They want to keep up with their grandkids.”

But after the dancing, kicking and training, it isn’t just physical health that is improved. The members of the close-knit group have become friends, encouraging one another and getting together socially.

“You can do this on your own, but you really need people who can help you,” said Janet Hulcha, 66, of Ross, who keeps in shape with the program after having knee and back surgery. “You have to keep active, and this is a disciplined and fun way to do it.”

Twice each week, participants meet at the Ross Community Center to stretch and get their hearts pumping — but not too hard.

The program began about five years ago and has had a steady following. While summer months tend to thin the classes out, new members are always given a warm welcome, said Heinauer, 50, of Ross.

“These people are active. They’re planting tomatoes, maintaining their homes and jetting to Florida,” she said. “They just warm my heart.”

Seniors are enthusiastic about the program, giving it their all, Zdrodowski said. The biggest challenge for a senior fitness instructor is initial motivation, she said.

“They’re reluctant to start, but once they get started, boy are they dedicated,” Zdrodowski said. “Sometimes they just need to get someone to come with them.”

From their basic warm-ups and resistance training to cool-down walking and relaxation routines, each program is designed to have variety and energy, Heinauer said.

Pat Schaefer enjoys the Zumba portion of the program, where exercise is mixed with Latin dance.

“It keeps you flexible,” said Schaefer, 76, who has been doing it for five years. “She changes it up, which really makes it fun. Everyone ought to exercise.”

For Claire McBride, exercise isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. She said she — like other older people — has to keep moving or else a medical condition would put her in a wheelchair.

“They have to have exercise,” said McBride, 76. “Otherwise they would just waste away. “

Jacqueline Dorsey has been working out with the Monroeville group for about 10 years and wishes she had begun 10 years earlier. At 80, she comes to class twice a week, and she supplements her routine with participation in other fitness programs.

“It has to be consistent,” Dorsey said. “If you start, you lose your momentum. You just have to keep going at it.”

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