Stronger, faster, fitter: Strength training program gets raves

Published on Thu, Feb 14, 2002 by Jack Kintner

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Stronger, faster, fitter: Strength training program gets raves

By Jack Kintner

Last August a new weight and resistance training program began at the Blaine Senior Center as part of a strategy to help keep older people independent longer by improving their health and fitness.

Using eight brand new state-of-the-art Cybex exercise machines, courtesy of a $30,000 grant from the Boeing Foundation, the original 24 enrollees were divided into three classes of eight people and asked to attend two one-hour sessions each week for ten weeks.

Laura White, the instructor in the first class, came from Western Washington University’s “Mature Adults Study” directed by Dr. Kathleen Knutzen, chair of Western’s physical education department. Knutzen was able to document impressive fitness gains through exercise and weight training in people as old as 96.

The weight training for seniors program has now enrolled its 200th participant, all of them over 50, as the center begins its fourth sequence of ten-week supervised training classes March 12 under the leadership of the current instructor, Western student Justin Harris.

“There’s still room in the next round of classes,” says an enthusiastic Toni Peller, 73, who was one of the original participants and wants to encourage all seniors to sign up, saying that she hasn’t “felt this good in years. I’m stronger and I don’t do that old-lady-crab-walk any more.”

Blaine senior center director Judy Van Brocklin first learned of Knutzen’s program through her daughter Heidi, a 1998 Western graduate and starting point guard on the women’s basketball team. She decided that this approach would fit in well with her goal of helping seniors maintain independent living as long as possible. “We want to help them stay in their homes as long as they can,” said Van Brocklin, “and this really works. After six months it’s turned out better than we could have imagined, and most have continued exercising after their class is over.”

White said that no one should worry about being too delicate for the class, because “it’s exactly that lack of activity that puts older folks at risk. With exercise they become stronger, more alert, have better balance and are less likely to fall. The training begins slowly, building each individual’s abilities.” With only eight people in each class it’s easy for the instructors to closely monitor performance and safety. So far, no one has suffered even a slight injury.

Stronger bones are also part of the benefit, White said, in ways not provided by such things as calcium pills. “The only way to absorb the calcium you need is to do load-bearing work,” said White, “but when you do, you find yourself stronger and more resilient.”

Jan Swansen, a member of the second class to go through the training, agreed. “Fitness not only improves your balance and your strength, you’re safer because it improves your bone strength. It’s not so much that older people fall and break something so much as something like a hip just breaks and then they fall. This program helps prevent that.”

Anyone over the age of 50 is eligible for these classes, modeled on Knutzen’s mature adult exercise program. This next month they will be offered beginning March 12 seven different times each Tuesday and Thursday, in the morning at 8, 9, 10 and 11a.m. and in the afternoon at 4, 5, and 6p.m.. Each person must provide a physician’s release and sign a liability disclaimer, and pay a $35 enrollment fee, though after completing the class participants may continue to use the equipment for free on open days, currently all day on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.

“Wednesdays still belong to the pinochle group,” said Peller, “since to get the space we converted the card room into a gym, but they still have it for a day each week.”

Call the senior center at 332-8040 to enroll. ..

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