The Varieties of Exercise

During my visits to senior communities, I see many levels of fitness, and activity. I’m no fitness expert, but, I know what I see as I observe the seniors who live in those communities.

Most independent communities don’t have many of what I call Dozers in the lobby, but they do have many other levels of activity and fitness.

First there are the Sitters. They are the residents who sit in the Bistro, sit in the Lobby, sit in the Library, sit anywhere they can relax and socialize. The younger residents tend to only sit for a minute, and get their exercise in all sorts of forms, going swimming at the Y, or shopping at the Mall. Then there are the more senior residents who just can’t get it moving much anymore, due to chronic physical ailments or lack of motivation. The long-term sitters should be moving more than they are, but think that taking the exercise class or walking around the building is too much work, or don’t think it applies to them. The more senior residents may have decided that they have worked hard all of their lives, and now is the time to take it easy. As my mom used to say, Tired and re-tired.

Next, there are the Walkers. They circle and circle the building three, sometimes four times, rain or shine. Some of the walkers discover how to walk a mile within the building. So on days when the weather is inclement, they can be found everywhere in the building. They go down one hall, turn around and go down another hall, then down the stairs or elevator to do the same thing on another floor. The bad weather, indoor walkers love when the sun comes out, so they can log their miles outside with the rain or shine walkers. Most walk together so they can catch up on the community news, while getting their daily dose of Vitamin D. The benefits of walking are well documented: muscle use, fresh air, sunshine, and low impact on joints. Plus, there are many mental benefitssharpness, focus, and a positive outlook.

The next group you have are the Exercisers. They are the residents, who attend almost all of the exercise classes offered, and participate and socialize with the other class attendees. After the classes, most of the exercisers head to the Bistro for some water, coffee, or a goodie, and continue conversations that were begun in their exercise class. They like the exercise classes and feel that they are really good for them (which they are), but think that is all they need to do. While exercise class alone is great, combined with walking it may double the physical and mental benefits.

Finally, there are the Athletes. They attend every exercise class; walk around the building, both inside and out, walk down to a trail or into town. They walk down to the local senior center to attend or teach classes, or to volunteer. Sometimes they drive to a local hospital or school to volunteer at the front desk, or help a child who is struggling to read. A better title for them might be, Active. They are still fully engaged in life, and plan to stay that way as long as possible. The interesting thing issome of the most active residents are the oldest residents. It’s obvious to me there are physical and mental benefits reaped by the athletes, as they are mentally quick and sharp, physically fit, and well toned. They are in the kind of shape that many middle-aged people wish they could attain. Again, the benefits of a good diet and exercise are many: fighting and delaying the onset of dementia, and possibly Alzheimer’s, more physical flexibility and stamina, better overall attitude, and enthusiasm for the activities of daily life.

As I observe the Sitters, Walkers, Exercisers, and the Athletes at the communities I visit, Ive come to the conclusion that when I move into a community a few years down the line, if I want to remain engaged in my life and my family’s life, I’ll need to strive to be one of the athletes. I’ll need to be a leader to help others to become their own athlete. I feel so fortunate to be able to see senior life from this side, so that when my time comes, I’ll be able to use the knowledge I’ve learned from the resident leaders in our senior communities to make a plan for my future.