Fitness is for all seasons

County seniors are adding spring to their step by taking part in an array of fitness classes at senior centers in their communities.

According to Patricia Whitson, community services supervisor at the Carroll County Bureau of Aging and Disabilities, 1,138 physical fitness classes were offered last year at the five county senior and activities centers, with 3,923 seniors participating.

In a survey last year, 63 percent of the seniors reporting said they saw an improvement in health and mobility.

"We have everything from simple chair exercises to tougher fitness classes," said Whitson. "The range we offer allows the seniors to exercise according to their abilities. We have Zumba, yoga, tai chi and pickleball at a couple of centers, which is extremely popular. We have general fitness classes and walking as well as dancing - including line dancing, tap dancing, ballroom and belly dancing."

Each senior center has a fitness room with exercise equipment.

Whitson said a class offered by the Arthritis Foundation is also popular. "You don't have to have arthritis to participate in this class. It is an evidence-based class, meaning that studies show that you will see improvement if you keep taking these exercise classes."

"Releasing endorphins, moving and circulating blood in your body is all good," said North Carroll Senior and Community Center Manager Renee Deiaco. "And the social connection that people make in classes is important."

Paula Schwab, of Eldersburg, said she has been going to the South Carroll Senior and Community Center for more than two years. She takes fitness classes with aerobic, weight and stretching, as well as Zumba. She also takes tap dance, belly dancing and line dancing.

Schwab said tap dancing is one of her favorites. "I am one of the younger members at 66," she said. "There are ladies in there in their 80s, and they tap their little hearts out. Some have been tapping 20 years. We go out into the community and do little shows for people. We are going to Lorien in Taneytown soon. What I find amazing is sometimes there are residents in these places that are younger than my tapping friends, and I really see how that tapping is key to keeping us fit and keeping us going."

Whitson said exercise classes can help with improving balance, and building strength and range of motion, joint mobility and pain relief. "We have an occupational therapist who works with the seniors and gives a lot of information on balance, tripping hazards and that sort of thing," she said.

Many extra classes come to county senior centers through Carroll Community College's continuing education department. Whitson said those classes are advertised in college literature as well as the centers' literature. "It ends up being a little bit cheaper for the students to take these classes because more people sign up," she said. "We might have as many as 30 in the class."

Karen Larrimore, South Carroll Senior and Community Center manager, said some of the favorites at her center are Zumba, yoga, the Arthritis Foundation exercise class and the Senior Fun and Fitness aerobics class.

"They really love the classes," Larrimore said. "We've had to expand some classes because we had so many interested people," she said. "We now have three Zumba classes."

Barbara Thompson, of Hampstead, has been taking classes at the North Carroll Senior and Community Center for about five years. "I like them all for different reason," she said. "Zumba is a lot of fun, but they all give you different benefits. I've done the real Zumba in the past, and it is a little too intense, but they gear [the class at the center] down for seniors."

Linda McClelland, of Westminster, has been taking classes at the Westminster Senior and Community Center for three years. She said she takes the Arthritis Foundation class and a Feel Fit class as well as using the treadmill and weight machines in the exercise room two days a week.

"They do help your balance and flexibility," McClelland said. "I have a trigger finger on my right hand and since I've taken the class I haven't had to have a shot of cortisone. I used to have a fear of falling down the steps, but I don't anymore. It has helped tremendously."

McClelland said most of the classes she's taken are seated, "but you can stand up and do them upright if you want," she said. "You do what you can. It all helps."

Whitson said, "I've had seniors come to me and say, 'When I first came to begin exercise classes I had to walk up the steps one at a time. Now I can walk normally up the stairs.' They can handle daily tasks much better, reach for things in their cabinets, and they make friends and become part of a group. That is more important as you age and lose more and more friends - to have those connections. And, most important, they have fun."

"At almost any of the classes you find people [in their] 60s, 70s and 80s out there working and kicking and not sitting home in a rocking chair," said Schwab. "That positive attitude and getting those endorphins going is what keeps us going."

Recommended on Baltimore Sun