Keep on moving

Peg Oakes knows the value of exercise.

She puts on her sweats three days a week and heads to the gym.

That is no big deal in itself until you learn that Oakes is 92 years old and has been keeping up the regimen for about 10 years.

“I was one of the first ones out there,” said Oakes of the Silver- Sneakers Fitness Program that the YMCA of Hollidaysburg began about a decade ago.

She said the workout really makes a difference.

“When I don’t get to go, I can feel it,” she said. “Like a few weeks ago, when I had the flu. I got stiff.”

By stiff, Oakes explains it’s a feeling she gets from sitting around too long.

“I don’t have any rheumatism. I don’t have any problems,” she said.

She said the SilverSneakers workout is good for muscles and builds strength in her hands, arms and legs.

“It’s a very good program,” said Oakes of Altoona.

In addition to keeping her body in shape, the program has allowed her to develop friendships and get to know other people. She said through the program, YMCA offers luncheons for the group, including a summer picnic and one during the holidays. Her family even arranged for a surprise 90th birthday celebration for her before class two years ago.

Oakes said people at the YMCA could not believe her age, so she showed them her driver’s license to prove it. She said she attributes her good health to eating properly, trying to think young and especially to exercising.

While Oakes is no couch potato, other seniors may be considering the need for a fitness routine.

Tina Kunstbeck, wellness center director at the YMCA, said exercise can “give you more energy and make you feel better.” She said any senior who has not been active should check with his or her doctor before working out.

“You might feel fine,” she said, “but make sure you are good to go.”

Kunstbeck said 30 minutes of moderate exercise five to six days a week is recommended for seniors. It should be enough to get the heart rate up.

“But even a couple of days a week is better than nothing,” she said.

Programs, such as SilverSneakers Fitness, are designed with seniors’ abilities in mind and are offered to Medicare recipients who are enrolled in certain supplemental health plans.

Other area fitness centers that offer the SilverSneakers Fitness Program are The Summit Tennis and Athletic Club of Altoona, Snap Fitness Centers in Altoona and Duncansville, Garver Memorial YMCA in Roaring Spring and ProCare Health Systems in Tyrone.

For seniors who do not have that option, Kunstbeck suggested walking, especially on a route that includes a few hills.

She said warming up before exercising is important and beginners should start nice and easy.

“A walk will get the blood circulating,” she said.

Static stretches should be held for 20 to 30 seconds and only done at the end of the workout when there is less chance of injury, she said.

Kunstbeck said the senior needs to pay attention to his or her body when exercising and make sure he or she does not get too out of breath.

She recommended the talk test. If if is easy to talk, then the walk is a light one. If it is harder to talk, the pace is a moderate one, but if the walker is not able to talk, the exercise is too stressful.

In addition to walking, she said exercise programs are available on the Internet or the senior may want to meet with a personal trainer.

Most fitness centers, including the YMCA, require a membership to receive instruction from a personalized trainer. Kunstbeck added that those in the SilverSneakers Program are members of the Y, but there is an extra fee for individualized programs.

One of the benefits of a fitness class is that it motivates people to maintain their regimens.

“People are there to socialize with. You’ll want to go,” Kunstbeck said. “Some people find friends to do things with outside the exercise program.”

Kunstbeck added that aquatics programs are available for seniors with arthritis and some are free with a membership. The Y has a warm water pool for their comfort in addition to its regular pool.

Charli Thompson, a certified SilverSneakers instructor, said more seniors are exercising because they see the benefits.

“They know they can’t sit still or that’s how they will end up,” Thompson said. “They need to move.”

She said the program includes a warm-up, cool down and exercises with balls, 2-pound weights and tubes along with water breaks.

“Seniors tend not to drink water,” she said, “but it is just as important as the exercise.”

While she takes her job seriously, Thompson said the seniors also make it fun.

“We laugh a lot. We have such a good time.”