Exercise: Local Clubs Offer Programs Tailored To Senior Citizens



Good health and exercise are not particularly relished subjects among the populace, old and young alike.

Mark Twain defined good health in these terms: "To eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like and do what you'd rather not."

But what Twain didn't consider when he made this jocular remark is that experts say the most common ailments of old age, including arthritis, osteoporosis, certain types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer's disease and impotence, can be improved upon or prevented with even the smallest amount of exercise ---- or as Twain commented, doing "what you'd rather not."

And ultimately, it could mean a superior quality of life for senior citizens.

"As our bodies age, the normal process is for our bodies to deteriorate; our muscles, our ligaments, our tendons, our bone mass, everything," said Heather Slater, who graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor's degree in exercise psychology and a master's in fitness science. "All the studies have shown that any type of resistance training or weight-bearing exercise almost stops that process from happening, almost like turning back time."

Slater, who also owns the Club U.S.A. gym on Main Street and the Beeline Highway, said osteoporosis is one of the most common diseases among seniors and is preventable with exercise.

"Whenever people get old and they fall so easily, (it's because) their bones are so brittle at that point, that they break," she added. "It's totally different when a 65-year-old falls over as opposed to a 20-year-old. Twenty-year-olds are going to get back up. That's because their bone density is so much greater."

Seniors can maintain and increase their bone density with strength training, Slater said.

"It's really fascinating," she said. "We would take people who were 75, who have never worked out, who were on walkers, and we would start them on a resistance program. They stopped using walkers, they were able to balance, and they were much more mobile."

Members of Club U.S.A. are placed on a workout program depending on their individual needs and agility, Slater said.

She added, "What's the point of living until 100 if you can't reach up into the cupboard and get something for yourself?"

Keven Rush, owner of Payson Athletic Club on Highway 260, said that he has seen first-hand the good that befalls seniors who exercise.

"Once you hit 40 or so, exercise begins to play a large role in your quality of life," he said. "I've got people calling me saying things like, ‘Thanks so much Keven. I just hung my shower curtain for the first time in years by myself,' because now they've got the strength to do things above their heads for the first time."

There are four group classes at the club specifically geared toward seniors, Rush said. They include senior stretch, oxycise (deep breathing), walk aerobics and sit-and-fit (during which seniors are not required to stand up to work out).

Rush added the club has formed an alliance with the Mogollon Health Association to arrange subsidies for seniors facing financial trouble. Because of the subsidies, seniors can apply to qualify for free enrollment in the MHAX III Health Plus program, which helps rehabilitate patients who have chronic illnesses or are suffering from a loss of function due to physical injuries or conditions.

Martha Hemphill, owner of the Curves for Women circuit training gym on Highway 260, said she has seen striking results in her senior clientele.

"Every older woman I have had in here has increased ability," she said. "And that's what it's about: maintaining body health."

Curves is a bit different from Club U.S.A. and the Payson Athletic Club. There, members do three rounds of circuit training on equipment with hydraulic resistance rather than actual weights. Hemphill said workouts generally last 30 minutes and are simple for women of all ages.

"Our program is useful and accessible to any age," she said. "We do have members over 80 and they do the same workout as anyone else."

Slater, Rush and Hemphill all said that it is sometimes difficult for seniors to take that first step to join gyms.

Hemphill said the largest barrier blocking them from exercise is not bad hips, back pain or lack of opportunity, but intimidation.

"I think they (seniors) do (feel intimidated) because one: they don't feel like they can manage complicated machines. Two: they don't think they can do aerobics," she said.

Rush said, "The first barrier is that they don't have any experience and they're very intimidated. The second is (some have) preexisting conditions that they don't know how to work around."

All three gym officials said their programs include personal assistance that would allow seniors to become accustomed to workout equipment and specialized programs that would accommodate their personal needs.

"What we're trying to do is increase quality of life, not work them so hard that they get really exhausted," Slater said.

There are seniors who will always feel intimidated by or uncomfortable with exercising in a gym. So, many find alternatives.

One popular choice is walking around the neighborhood or in a park like married couple and Paysonites Richard and Ann O'Donnal, who stroll through Green Valley Park on Main Street whenever they get the chance.

"I need to get out here and breathe better and then my legs won't be so wobbly," Ann said as she circled the largest of the Green Valley lakes. "You do need exercise, especially if you're older. I don't feel so sluggish and out of it (after I'm done)."

Richard said, "Once you're old, it's hard to get out of bed every day. But once you're out, it gets better."

The Payson Regional Senior Circle Association is another alternative to gyms. It offers nine unique classes ranging from arthritis-based aquatics and arm chair aerobics to line dancing and even belly dancing for women.

For students like 64-year-old Mary Heun, the belly dancing classes she attends every week have meant a more mobile and healthy body.

"I severely damaged my knee and once I got up walking again, this class has been great for therapy," she said out of breath in her flowing, brightly-colored outfit. "I appreciate the exercise and I like the freedom just to be whatever I want to be."

Katharine Hepburn, who recently died at the age of 96, partially attributed her longevity to an active life.

She once said, "And one day I'll die, and that doesn't frighten me. I think it will be fine, perfectly fine ... because I'll just be taking a long wonderful nap. But until I do, I intend to tire myself out."

Payson's fitness opportunities

Club U.S.A.

Services: optional rehabilitation program for members over 50, one-on-one help and instruction

Cost: $25 per month memberships. The gym is currently offering free week-long passes.

Location: Sawmill Crossing on Main Street and the Beeline Highway

Phone number: (928) 474-2582

Curves for Women

Services: circuit training program using hydraulic resistance, frequent rests, personal assistance always available

Cost: $29-$39 per month memberships

Location: Bashas' complex on Highways 260 and the Beeline

Phone number: (928) 474-9797

Payson Athletic Club

Services: MHAX III Health Plus rehabilitation program for seniors with financial trouble. Regular memberships include classes, complete gym access and personalized programs.

Cost: $35 per month membership, subsidies available with MHAX program

Location: Inside Rim Country Mall on Highway 260

Phone number: (928) 474-0916

Payson Regional Senior Circle

Services: There are nine unique classes available. The circle also just started a walking program yesterday.

Cost: Senior circle members pay $15 for a one-year membership that includes all classes. Nonmembers can sign up for the walking program at $5 a month.

Location: Just north of the Bashas' complex on the east side of the Beeline Highway

Phone number: (928) 468-1012

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