by Jennifer Noel
For Peggy Santamaria, Bob Dylan said it best:
“But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
At a spry 74, Santamaria teaches weekly chair yoga classes for active adults at the YMCA in Hanover. With class attendees ranging from their mid-50s to mid-80s, the bi-weekly sessions provide physical fitness as well as an opportunity to be part of a group of health-focused individuals.
While remaining in good physical shape might seem daunting as an aging adult, organizations like the YMCA recognize the necessity of meeting the needs of all age groups. Helping to boost the mobility and confidence of active adults is the primary goal for instructors of classes aimed at keeping people moving and healthy as they grow older.
On the Go
Several obstacles can prevent physical fitness from becoming and remaining a top priority in everyday life as we age — including the cost of gym and club memberships. But there are ways to keep active and not face a heavy financial burden.
Silver Sneakers is a nationally accredited program that offers seniors on Medicare unlimited access to gyms in over 14,000 locations, including classes and other amenities.
In Southern Pennsylvania, dozens of institutions, including the YMCA, Gold’s Gym, and Club 2000, participate in the program. Joining Silver Sneakers is as simple as logging on to a website and answering a few simple questions. Once eligibility is confirmed, the options seem limitless.
For Santamaria, a class like chair yoga gives participants the opportunity to engage in physical activity at their own pace, including the modification of sitting in chairs rather than on the floor.
“My goal is to help restore comfortable body alignment, enhance range of joint motion, increase flexibility and improve balance,” said Santamaria. “Breathing is my big thing with students. To breathe deeply and fully is to experience the muscle relaxation that allows stress to be released from mind, body and spirit.”
For participants, the major appeal of the classes is simply feeling better.
“I try to attend classes at least once a week,” said Marlys Wlodarski, 71. “I can tell the difference when I don’t; the class improves your strength and stamina.”
Charles Bechtel, 84, a retiree from the Washington, D.C., area, works out with several classes offered at the YMCA through Silver Sneakers.
“This is something my wife and I can do together,” said Bechtel, a two-time cancer survivor who learned of other adult fitness classes through the YMCA’s Livestrong program. “For me, the classes help with weight control, and chair yoga really helps with my back issues.”
Bechtel says “mental therapy” is involved as well. “You get to form interpersonal relationships with people and be more social — we certainly laugh a lot.”
Participants are reminded to avoid the “Walmart shuffle” as Santamaria calls it. She encourages her students to carry best physical practices into everyday life. And the workouts are easily tailored to individual needs: All classes can be modified to accommodate mobility challenges. In addition to chair yoga, the YMCA offers several other classes for active adults, including Silver & Fit, Senior Cycling, and Hinges and Twinges, a popular water aerobics class.
Tammy Shore, aquatic director at the YMCA of Hanover, noted the benefits of water-focused exercise, especially for seniors.
“There is very little impact on joints with water fitness,” she said. “The classes are great for individuals with arthritis and mobility issues. Our goal is for participants to ‘do what they can do’ and keep them moving in everyday life.”
Exercise is a crucial element of good health, but diet is also key to a well-balanced and healthy lifestyle. With age, however, come complications and restrictions that sometimes make healthful eating a challenge.
Malorie Blake is an integrative registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Wholesome 365 LLC, a nutrition counseling practice with locations in Hanover and York.
One area Blake says is often overlooked in retirement age individuals is “gut health,” especially among those who have not previously suffered from digestive problems. Blake notes that certain nutrients are crucial to maintaining good health as we age, such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D, K and B-12.
She noted that a B-12 deficiency can be caused by a number of factors, such as insufficient acid production in the stomach — a common condition among older adults. “Certain medication can also decrease B-12 absorption,” she said.
Blake recommends a diet high in fiber, as well as increasing potassium consumption and decreasing sodium intake. Consumption of healthy fats, such as fatty fish, avocados, nuts, seeds and full-fat yogurt and oils — such as coconut, olive, and avocado — is also vital for older adults.
“I notice cooking sometimes takes a back seat during retirement, or individuals may start to rely on a lot of convenience foods, since there may not be as many people in the house to cook for,” said Blake. “However, I encourage everyone to embrace whole foods and minimize ultra-processed items like fast food and frozen meals.”
But the most important message is that it’s never too late to pursue a happy and healthy lifestyle — all you have to do is choose it.
To register with the Silver Sneakers program, visit the website, www.silversneakers.com.