ALBANY — Chauntel Powell, Albany News Herald
December 20, 2015 is a day Frances Weintraub remembers quite vividly. The 88-year-old was walking through her home and suffered a nasty fall that broke her pelvis in two places and her tailbone in one.
For many her age, this could have resulted in a complete lack of mobility and dependency on others, but thanks to Weintraub’s active lifestyle, she was able to get back to her regular routine in almost no time.
“(My doctor) told me that it was amazing that I was in as good a health and shape as I was,” she said.
Just five months later, Weintraub was back in the front row of the SilverSneakers fitness class held at the Albany YMCA. SilverSneakers fitness has been a large part of Weintraub’s life since she started attending classes at what used to be Gold’s Gym over a decade ago and she said because of it, she was able to maintain her independent lifestyle.
“If it had not been for (instructor Sam McCormick), and I had not been exercising all this while, I fully believe that I would have been in the nursing home, laying on my back,” she said.
As the nation’s population grows ever grayer, a number of organizations are gearing fitness programs solely to seniors, offering classes that focus on health concerns that particularly impact that age group.
Weintraub had originally received a notice in the mail saying her insurance provider would pay the membership fee for classes if she signed up for the SilverSneakers program.
As of today, Weintraub is involved in Zumba Gold, line dancing, the annual Chile Run, several parades and more.
According to Bernie Scoggins, an internist and geriatrician at the South Albany Medical Center, incidents involving falls such as Weintraub’s are quite common among older adults.
“There’s a natural tendency as we get older to not pick our feet up as high and to take shorter steps,” Scoggins said. “And not picking your feet up as leads to tripping and falling, which is a real common thing.
“Part of it is loss of sensation in our nerve endings. And sometimes our feet cannot feel as well where we are in space. Sometimes our vision’s worse. Sometimes our balance mechanisms in our ears are not as good. It’s a combination of things all together.”
Scoggins added that falls by individuals of an advanced age are more dangerous. He said that as people get older, they’re much more prone to osteoporosis and have a tendency to fracture much more easily. The recovery time of falls is also elongated due to advanced age both physically and mentally.
“Once people fall, especially much older people, they fall one time and they get very scared,” he said. “Sometimes it affects their whole outlook, and they’re scared to do much of anything.”
Of the top health concerns for people over 65, including fractures and balance, Scoggins said exercise can help with many of them.
“Exercise helps get their muscles stronger, especially their legs, and if your leg muscles are stronger above and below the knee, then you’re less likely to fall down,” he said. “Also, exercise helps bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. Weight exercises help protect your bones. They also improve nutrition and helps people’s appetite.”
According to the United States Census Bureau, citizens 65 years-old and up made up 11.3 of Albany’s 77,434 population in 2010. As that number continues to grow, various organizations are expanding their programs to cater to this demographic and help keep them healthy and active.
McCormick has seen first-hand the growth of senior fitness. When she first started teaching at what used to be Gold’s Gym, there were only 12 participants in the senior program. Today, she may have 12 in the first row alone of her SilverSneakers fitness class. Having seen the effects exercise had on her own mother in terms of improving her health, McCormick has dedicated her time and services for the last 17 years to helping push mature adults in reaching their fitness goals.
The Albany Area YMCA has a slew of fitness programs for mature adults including aerobic tone, balanced body, chair yoga stretch, fun fit, water aerobics and several SilverSneakers classes.
Similarly, the Southwest Georgia Council on Aging has a handful of programs as well, including line dancing, chair fitness and tai chi for arthritis.
“In these programs, we have seen an extreme success rate,” McCormick said. “A lot of our mature adults that were on chronic medication, and when I say chronic I mean pain medicine, blood pressure medicine, things like that. I can say in 17 years, I’ve seen 50 percent being able to decrease their medication. And it’s because they’re in an avid fitness program.”
Shirley Brown, an instructor at the Council on Aging, said she has seen fitness among mature adults become a priority, too. She said she’s seen the number of those enrolled in her Tuesday/Thursday chair fitness class grow from 15 to 100 and average 45 participants a session.
At the council, she said they really embrace the four F’s — friends, fun, fellowship and fitness — to create an environment that makes everyone feel comfortable.
Brown said she’s been able to see a significant shift in the attitude of people in her classes.
“It boosts your mood and your self-confidence,” she said. “A lot of people that actually started in this class, they’ll run to the back because they didn’t want to be up front. Now that they know what to do and they know how important it is, they come in and they work out like everybody else.”
The social aspect is one reason Weintraub continued to return. She admitted that she was shy at first, but after coming regularly, went from a quiet member to the unofficial greeter in charge of making others feel welcome and comfortable. McCormick said that the members of her class have created their own fitness family.
“There’s a lot of seniors who’ve lost their husbands and wives,” she said. “I’ve got one senior who lost not only her husband, but her son as well. This is her family. And anybody that reaches out, their hearts are so big that it encompasses them.”
While numbers have improved significantly, McCormick said they’re nowhere near where they could be. Though more than 400 seniors participate in programs at the Y, she said there are more than 2,500 mature adults in Albany alone who are eligible for free membership in the programs through insurance.
She noted that the programs are easily accessible, but not limited major insurance carriers. She encouraged interested members to contact their health insurance provider to see if they qualify. Individuals who don’t qualify can still sign up for classes at a discount rate.
“At the Y, we have a reduced rate to where even those that don’t have that program, they can pay a reduced fee and still participate in everything we have here,” McCormick said. “There are a lot people out there who have the SilverSneakers Fitness Program and are not even walking through the doors using it. They are throwing it away.”
Participation in SOWEGA Council on Aging programs are completely free for any senior who signs up. Music, necessary equipment and other materials are provided. Brown said everyone who is of age should take full advantage.
“There’s no cost, it’s free, everything’s provided. So we say come,” she said.
Those interested can register at the YMCA at 1701 Gillionville Rd or call (229) 436-0531. SOWEGA Council on aging classes are held at the Kay H. Hind Senior Life Enrichment Center at 335 W. Society Ave. The center can be reached at (229) 435-6789.