SHERIDAN — Indian Sikh Fauja Singh became the oldest marathon runner in 2011 when he ran a marathon in Toronto at the age of 101. He began running when he was in his late 80s.
German gymnast Johanna Quaas performed on the parallel bars at age 86.
And local woman Diane Hobson busts Latin dance moves four days a week at Zumba Gold, an exercise program for active older adults.
Though she may not be a marathon runner, Hobson, 66, and all other Sheridan County residents in their golden years who have found a way to stay active — be it in water aerobics at the YMCA, exercise programs at the Senior Center, or sweating to Richard Simmons videos in their living room — deserve to be commended for striving to move when aging muscles and bones tend to protest.
“As far as Zumba goes, you shouldn’t be afraid of it. Just come and try it, and see what it’s all about,” Hobson said. “You really work at your own pace. You don’t have to keep up with the instructor. You just do what you can do.”
Doing what you can do is key to exercise as people age.
YMCA Health and Well-being Instructor Patty Cox said many older adults are scared to exercise for several reasons: they’re out of practice with the whole concept of moving, they’re scared it will hurt, they’re scared of what people will think if they show up overweight and out of shape.
That’s why many Active Older Adult programs at the YMCA are geared towards not only keeping people moving but giving them a safe place to do so where mental and social well-being are promoted as much as the workout.
For people with arthritis who find opening a jar painful, there is arthercise, a pool-based program that is easy on swollen, painful joints. There is a separate weight room for cardio and strength training so older adults don’t feel intimidated by that young buck bench pressing 200 pounds like he’s lifting a mug of coffee — not to mention they dropped a mug of coffee just last week because it was too heavy.
Cox said a lot of older adults also pursue a program called Y Personal Fitness, which allows participants to workout at their own pace surrounded by a small group of similar people and an instructor who offers one-on-one help. Oh, and there’s no mirrors in the room to feel embarrassed by.
“Exercise is needed not only for seniors, but for everybody. It keeps the body moving, keeps muscles strong, keeps the heart strong, which is important,” Cox said, adding that exercise can keep someone away from the point where getting out of a chair or even off the toilet is a challenge.
If weight rooms aren’t quite right, or someone knows their exercise routine has to have a little more spice to hold their interest, Zumba Gold may be a good option.
Zumba Gold instructor Denise Wood, who is in her 60s herself, said she feels like Zumba Gold gets overlooked as an exercise option for older adults for a couple reasons: people tend to think Zumba is only for the young and fit or they think that a Zumba program that is toned down isn’t a good workout.
“The class is called Zumba Gold because it’s designed to meet the needs of the active, aging adult. But it also is completely suitable for someone in their 30s and 40s because we work hard in our class. Just because it says ‘gold’ doesn’t mean that we barely move. We really stretch ourselves,” Wood said.
Wood established a consistent exercise routine in her 30s, trying just about every type of workout available, and found Zumba to be a perfect fit when she tried it a decade ago.
“It does provide, number one, the fun, which is really important. If you’re going to stick with anything, you have to enjoy it. And also, the versatility and the absolute best all-around workout that I’ve ever seen,” Wood said. “We incorporate weights, and we work on strength training and all sorts of things we become aware of the loss of them as we age. You don’t really notice it. It’s a subtle change, but all of a sudden you want to reach to the top of your cupboard, and you say, ‘Gee.’ You notice that you can’t do what you used to do.”
Cassie Sundberg started out in regular Zumba at Z Fit with Lorrie, but found it was too much impact on her joints. She still wanted a good workout where she could work up a sweat, so she joined Zumba Gold.
“I enjoy the dance aspect of this. It seems to make the time go by faster. I enjoy the music and the movements. They make it more fun,” Sundberg said.
No matter what way older adults get moving, they need to remember it’s critical — for themselves and their loved ones.
“You’re either going to step up and take responsibility for yourself and be part of the solution, or you’re going to be the problem. When I say ‘the,’ it has to become very personal because you are going to be your own problem because you won’t be able to exist with freedom,” Wood said. “If the people anywhere from 40 to 50, 60 and beyond, don’t start moving, the end is here. Time marches quickly, and they will be absolutely dependent and lose their freedom.”
For more information on exercise programs for older adults:
• Call Zumba Gold instructor Denise Wood at 751-0270. Or visit the “Z Fit with Lorrie” open house at 10 a.m. Saturday at 118 W. Fifth St. Free introductory classes will be offered for all who come.
• Call the YMCA at 674-7488.
• Call the Tongue River Community Center in Dayton, which hosts a senior fitness class, at 655-9419.
• Call Scotty’s Skate Castle, which hosts a Zumba Gold class, at 672-0245.