Qualityof life forMatureAdults

Published on Thu, Feb 3, 2005
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Quality of life for
Mature Adults

It’s never too late to get in great shape...

By Jack Kintner

“I’ll do anything to lose weight except diet and exercise,” goes the old joke. But as people age it’s less and less a laughing matter, according to an on-going Mature Adults Study directed by the chair of the Western Washington University (WWU) physical education department, Dr. Kathleen Knutzen.

Osteoporosis is a common old-age disease in which bones become increasingly brittle until they break easily. It’s widespread, threatening 55 percent of the population over the age of 50. One in two women and one in four men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their remaining lifetime. Often the presence of the disease is not detected until one fractures a hip, hand or spine, leading to hospitalization and sometimes agonizingly slow recovery.

Knutzen has shown in her study that exercise, even for people in their 90s, not only halts this deterioration but can reverse it. Laura White, who worked with Knutzen as a student intern and taught the first exercise class at the Blaine senior center four years ago, said that taking supplements is fine, but “the only way to absorb the calcium you take in is to do load-bearing work.” In other words, calcium loss is reversible through exercise that includes weight and strength training as well as aerobic routines designed to maintain cardiovascular fitness. Just taking the supplements may not be very effective without these types of exercises.

Senior center director Judy Van Brocklin’s daughter Heidi took classes from Knutzen as a WWU undergraduate and first told her of Knutzen’s ideas, essentially that no one is too old to benefit from vigorous and frequent exercise. Van Brocklin introduced the program in 2001 with eight exercise machines she bought with a $30,000 grant from the Boeing Employee’s Foundation. Senior center member Evelyn Yarbrough was instrumental in securing the grant.

Since then several hundred people have gone through the steps needed to be able to use the equipment: after being screened by your physician, you must complete a class that meets weekly for 10 weeks that introduces you to the machinery as well as marks your progress. After that, the equipment is available whenever the center’s open, except when a class is being taught. Sign-up is available for the next sequence of classes, expected to be held this spring.

“Yes, I feel much better since beginning this routine,” roared Walt Ducoing, 66, over the music playing in his headset as he paced along on the treadmill at the Blaine senior center. The retired Navy aircraft technician said he and his wife Sharron have been exercising at the center for three years, “and it really helps, plus the price is right!”
As in free, Ducoing explained. “You take this class, and then it’s free after that. Such a deal,” he winked, adding that he is also active in the Sunset Trailblazers hiking club out of the Bellingham Senior Center, taking strenuous hikes once a week on Thursdays.

Jan Swansen, a member of the second class to go through the training, agreed, saying, “fitness not only improves your balance and muscle strength, you’re safer because it also increases your bone strength. Osteoporosis means that older people don’t break a bone in a fall so much as the bone breaks spontaneously, which then causes a fall. This program prevents that.”

Senior center program director Toni Peller said that there have been several people over 90 who have taken the classes and have stuck with the program, though she admits the fall-off rate is high. “It helps make room for others, though,” she said, “and once people see how much better they feel and how this improves their balance, they’re hooked.”

The classes cost $35. For more information about when the next series will begin, call the senior center at 332-8040.