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Options for exercise abound at local organizations

Five days a week, Betsy Kalweit heads off to the Eastside Family YMCA.

“I feel great,” the 68-year-old retired teacher says. “The exercise helps, because it makes me feel like I’m keeping my body strong.”

Kalweit is one of the many senior citizens around the Rochester area who strive to remain physically fit as they age—and their numbers may be growing.

“Since 2009, we have experienced a 10 percent growth in senior memberships,” says Laura Fasano, vice president for Healthy Living at the YMCA of Greater Rochester.

Among the Rochester-area organizations offering programs, classes and services that seniors can use to stay in shape are health care institutions and senior citizen residential facilities. Such programs include everything from yoga classes to chair-based weight training, all geared to older adults’ abilities and needs.

The Legacy at Park Crescent, a community for seniors who can live independently, offers its residents a fitness room full of stationary bicycles and weekly classes that feature low-impact exercises.

“They normally constitute aerobic fitness, muscular fitness and flexibility,” says Elaine Matthews, Legacy at Park Crescent’s executive director. “Those are the three that the seniors—as well as any age person—should try to do.”

Whatever activities or exercise classes older adults participate in to stay fit, those who work with them agree that seniors should consult their physicians before putting on their exercise clothes.

ElderOne, a Rochester Regional Health System program, offers a variety of exercise classes to seniors as part of an effort to help them continue to live independently in the community. All undergo medical exams at the outset and regularly thereafter.

“We usually make sure medically that they’re able to perform exercises,” says Becky Perrone, ElderOne’s Manager of Rehabilitation Services. “Then, based on what their goals are and what they want to do, we will try to tailor the exercise program to them, or get them in a group that’s going to help maintain their functioning.”

ElderOne’s participants—that’s what the program calls its seniors—can attend group fitness classes or activities at one of the program’s three day centers or exercise or stretch at home.

Exercise tends to be more productive when undertaken in light of an appropriate goal. Elizabeth Wetmore, the Spine Rehabilitation Program Coordinator at UR Medicine Sports & Rehabilitation, encourages seniors to follow the American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines when participating in aerobics or other activities of that type. The ACSM uses a formula to calculate a person’s maximum heart rate.

“It really depends upon the person and the age,” Wetmore says. “There’s a big difference between 65 and 95.”

Those 65 and older should try to raise their heart rates to between about 55 and 90 percent of their maximums when exercising.

“We’d want people to do that about four to five days per week, for about 20 to 60 minutes,” Wetmore says.

Over at the Y, those in exercise classes are encouraged to think of levels of physical exertion as heart rate “zones,” to be set in light of physicians’ recommendations. The seniors are then advised to pay close attention to their bodies to make sure they stay inside or close to their zones.

“Using that methodology of zone training, does it feel easy? Is it moderate-feeling? Is it hard, or is it the hardest you’ve ever worked?” Fasano says.

Though ElderOne’s participants undergo periodic medical exams, they are also encouraged to monitor themselves while exercising.

“I would tell them not to push themselves to the point of pain,” Perrone says. “Don’t overexert to where they cannot recover their breathing within a few minutes of the exercise.”

While aerobic exercise is certainly beneficial, health care professionals and others who help seniors stay fit also encourage them to regularly hoist a few pounds.

“A strength program is usually recommended somewhere around two to four times per week, depending on what your primary goals are and how long you’re going to be doing the exercises for,” Wetmore says.

Whether you build up a sweat with or without weights, activities that make use of multiple muscles usually give the most gains.

“A program where you use multiple different muscles and multiple joints at the same time is usually helpful for people who are trying to maintain or strengthen lots of different areas of the body,’ Wetmore says.

Even those who are unable to stand for long due to balance problems can lift some type of weight. Arm exercises can be performed while holding onto a chair or even sitting in one.

“For arm strength and upper body, pretty much they can do the same type of exercise, and they’ll get the same type of benefits,” Perrone says.

Those who exercise, whatever their ages, also need to respond to the effects of stress, age or injuries upon their joints.

“If there’s significant arthritis, they may not be able to achieve what we would consider a normal range of motion,” Wetmore says. “But you at least want to maximize the range of motion that you’re going to train through.”

Arthritis or other joint diseases might make walking too uncomfortable for some seniors. They may find swimming or water aerobics to be better options for working out.

“If you’re in a pool, that’s about a 50 percent weight reduction, so that means 50 percent less force going down through the spine,” Wetmore says. “That’s a good way for people to stay moving, get the cardiovascular benefits, and get the benefits of exercise.”

In all cases, excessive or unusual discomfort or pain should not be ignored.

“There is probably a reason for that pain, so it’s good to check in with your doctor or your therapist or your health care professional,” Wetmore says.

At the same time, seniors should be wary of not pushing themselves enough, particularly during weight training.

“Most of the research that has come out recently has said that personal trainers or therapists are not pushing their older patients enough,” Wetmore says. “People who are older can still make significant strength gains when they’re on an appropriate exercise program.”

Rhoda Perry’s arthritis helped bring the 78-year-old to the Legacy at Park Crescent’s Arthritis Exercise classes after she moved into the community last April.

“I’ve had two knees replaced and two hips replaced, and I’m having trouble with my right shoulder and my neck,” she says.

Though time constraints prevent Perry from attending the classes more than twice a week, the class has already begun to help with her condition.

“It’s making me more flexible,” she says. “I’m walking around the building every day, and just find it easier to get up and sit down and do things.”

Another type of stress brought Kalweit to the Eastside Family YMCA back in 2011. At the time, she was the caretaker for her late mother, a role that took an emotional and physical toll.

“I needed to do something to keep myself from really going downhill,” says the Ontario resident and married grandmother.

Kalweit began with water aerobics and then branched out. These days, when she’s not in a water aerobics classes, she might head off to a Silver Cycle or Zumba Gold class or to one of the other land-based exercise classes that her Y provides for seniors.

“I tell people I’m ‘surf-and-turf’ now,” she says.

The classes provide more than physical benefits.

“You get a lot of encouragement here at the Y and from other people,” Kalweit says. “Not only physical encouragement, but also emotional support.”

Mike Costanza is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

7/15/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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