Something like Zumba? About 40 seniors at the Jewish Community Center in Park Heights have found their passion with the Latin aerobic workout.

Most found the class by word of mouth, and many had not been doing any exercising before — or not enjoying what they were doing.

Those in the class are generally between the ages of 65 and 80. One woman is in her 90s, and on a recent day, everyone completed the whole hour of dance moves.

"I wouldn't miss this class unless I had a broken leg," said Elaine Ozol, 77, of Mount Washington, wiping sweat from her brow after a recent session.

Added Allie Lieberman, 76, of Pikesville: "It takes care of what's wrong with you and what's was going to be wrong with you."

For 69-year-old Beatrice Gotthelf, who has Parkinson's disease, the exercise "keeps me loose."

The women were joined by Beulah Wallace, 80, and Deb Jones, 79, who said the class has gotten them into shape and kept them that way. It has also allowed them to forge bonds with each other.

And that's exactly what Jackie Foreman was going for. She's the fitness center and personal training supervisor at the Park Heights JCC.

Zumba can be ratcheted up or down, depending on each participant's abilities, she said. And it's appealing to people who normally get to dance only at weddings and bar mitzvahs.

"It's a gateway exercise," she said. "Some seniors have been exercising their whole lives, but we brought some nonexercisers into an exercise space. … It's meeting their physical and mental needs because they're remembering steps. And it's a community activity. They're enjoying being together."

Studies show that women and others who exercise will live longer and feel better for their efforts, said Dr. William B. Greenough III, a professor in the Hopkins Bayview Medical Center's' department of geriatric medicine and gerontology.

At 80, he has 15 marathons under his belt, and he and his wife still regularly compete in races.

He said research shows a half-hour of exercise three or four times a week brings optimal benefits, and those who exercise generally need far fewer medications.

He agreed there may be a little bit of pain or soreness, but once seniors push past the first 10 or 15 minutes, it should become more comfortable. Pain that doesn't subside may mean a doctor's attention and another exercise are in order. Swimming, stationary biking, gym workouts and yoga may be good alternatives for those with arthritis, balance problems or cardiac conditions.

Greenough recommended consulting a physical therapist or personal trainer if the doctor doesn't have good advice — or doesn't even bring up the issue of exercise. Many hospitals have physical therapy facilities.

"Even housework helps," he said. "You can adjust to a new level of activity in six to eight weeks, and it may take a year to get a whole lot of benefit. You can't quit. If you want to live longer, there isn't any pill that does it."

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

Who is exercising

About half of 100 centenarians polled say they exercise almost every day.

•Nearly 45 percent of the centenarians cite walking as their favorite physical activity; 11 percent practice yoga, tai chi or other mind/body/spirit activity; 8 percent ride a bike regularly; 5 percent jog; and 2 percent engage in sports like baseball, basketball, soccer or tennis.