By Giselle Aguiar, From the Patient’s Point of View with Lorrie Karn, Personal Trainer, Nutritionist and Lifestyle Educator

One of major lifestyle changes I made since returning from putting my bedridden mom in a nursing home was join a gym. I’ve tried some of the major chains and personally, I just didn’t like them. I opted to join Family Life Center at North Phoenix Baptist Church. It’s $30/m, but I get a discount for being over 60! They are also a SilverSneakers® gym. People with the Medicare  that includes SilverSneakers® get to join for free. They accept other insurance plans that offer free gym membership for seniors.

What I like about this fitness center is the variety of exercise and fitness classes they have to offer. Even though I’m not officially eligible for SilverSneakers® yet, I can attend their classes. I’ve tried their yoga and aerobics classes. Since I have bad osteoarthritis in my knees, some of the squats and lunges are tough, but I go as far as my knees will let me.

part of healthy aging is joining a fitness class

My absolute favorite class (and I tried a good majority of them) is the Stretch and Balance class led by one of the personal trainers. I didn’t realize how bad my balance was till I tried this class. He uses yoga poses as well as other balance exercises.

Balance is crucial as we age to prevent falls and fragile bone breaks like what happened to my mom. My balance has definitely improved since religiously taking this class. And that’s it.

Attending Fitness Classes is a Commitment to Your Healthy Aging

Being too old is no excuse to be healthy as you age.

Being too old is no excuse to be healthy as you can be as you age.

It’s the same with working out – strength training and aerobics. I’ve put workouts and classes on my calendar. I’m not an early morning person, so I’ve had to rearrange my work schedule around the workouts and classes. I started in June. Before that, I walked about a mile around my neighborhood every morning (got too hot in the Phoenix sun) and not-so-religiously did some very light weight-lifting. Since I started at the gym, my strength has improved and my basal metabolism rate (BMR) has gone up 10 points. That means at rest, I’m burning more calories because I have more muscle. A BIA test will determine your BMR. (It’s part of the Healthy Aging Screening offered at Holistic Health Solutions (HHS).) I hired a personal trainer to help me learn the right form to do the weight lifting and work the equipment so I don’t injure myself. I highly recommend doing that when you first start. I now feel comfortable doing a full-body workout 5x a week.

As for weight loss in this I’m kind of stuck. Yes, muscle weighs more than fat and I definitely feel stronger. I think I’m eating too many carbs, but carbs are quick and easy with my busy schedule. I’m going to try taking time on Sundays to plan and prep my meals for the week.

Which Fitness Class Should I take?

When I first joined the gym, they handed me a schedule of classes with descriptions of each. Having osteoarthritis, I have pain in my knees, shoulders, hands, ankles even my toes. I tried all the classes that were at a reasonable hour (no earlier than 8:30 am): Zumba®, Ball Pilates, Holy Yoga, “Yogalates”, and T’ai Chi. Zumba® was too fast for me and I couldn’t keep up. T’ai Chi was too slow. They have others like “Bootcamp”, “Power Pump”, and “Core Class”, but I think I’m not ready for those yet. (To be honest, the names scare me.) Besides the Stretch and Balance class, I take a “Body Awareness” class which is a mixture of light aerobics, hand-eye exercises and light weights.

With all these choices of fitness classes, I asked HHS’s resident personal trainer, Lorrie Karn, for her guidance:

Group Fitness classes have come a LONG way from leg warmers and endless high impact jumping. Today’s group fitness arena includes a little something for everyone. Classes range from dance based classes such as Zumba® and hip hop, to cardio kickbox, muscle conditioning, Tabata, indoor cycling, and many different mind/body formats. There are literally dozens of classes to choose from, many of which have their own personal take or delivery.

So, the question arises, which classes work best?

Which ones are best for you?

The answer is much simpler than we think. To take a look at the foundation of class formats, they each serve a different purpose; cardio, muscle conditioning/development, and flexibility. Under those three main umbrellas there is a wide variety of options. Though expert opinions vary on this topic, opening up to consider the benefits of each category may best serve your body.

Cardio Classes Develop Heart Health

Group fitness classes are fun for healthy agingSimply stated, the number one killer in the USA is still cardiovascular disease. Combined with healthy nutrition, cardio classes work to develop the most import muscle in the body… the heart. That said, there are some important things to know about cardio training.

When starting an exercise regimen, it is important to refrain a bit and not overdo it. If this means cutting out of class a bit early or modifying movements, then so be it. Heart rate monitoring can be beneficial if done correctly, but beginners are usually best served to monitor their perceived exertion. If the body says to slow down… listen!

Clothing is also important with cardio classes. Clothing should be loose and breathable. Tight or restrictive clothing does not allow proper ventilation and can cause ventilation issues or even impede circulation.

Muscle conditioning classes are as they sound… for the purpose of muscle development.

The benefits of developing lean tissue include increased metabolic rates to decreasing osteoporosis. Added muscle also encourages endurance and vigor. Having enough strength to enjoy recreational activities is wonderful, as is having enough strength for self-help and self-care.

Classes in this arena should include a wide variety of movements and be devoid of highly repetitive movements. These classes are not designed to get the heart rate into an anaerobic state like cardio classes. These classes still produce sweat and can be challenging, but in order to be a non-cardio class, the heart rate should not produce the same increased respiratory rates that cardio classes do.

Like cardio, it is very important to listen to your body. Lifting too much weight or too many sequential days can cause serious illness or injury. Movements that are in excess of 20+ repetitions (of the same muscle) may lead to tendonitis or muscle strain. Weight that feels uncontrollably heavy can lead to serious tears. Muscle groups worked require time to heal… allow muscle recovery time between classes.

Mind/body classes are for the purpose of providing restorative movement to the body as well as providing attention to learning what the body is telling us.

Classes such as stretch or yoga allow worked muscles to elongate and improve function including range of motion. Deep breathing also aids in circulation and cleansing of the lungs. These classes are often provided in soft lit rooms that also serve to filter stimulus to the body; which in turn allows the body to functionally move in a way that rejuvenates not only the muscles, but the mind as well.

Like other with formats, listening to the body is essential! Pushing too far into a stretch can cause injuries; specifically connective tissue. There are many different formats in this arena. If yoga is not your thing, then other mind/body classes such as guided imagery or meditation can help calm and de-stress the body. Benefits range from improved circulation and flexibility to lowered blood pressure and improved mental status.

At the end of the day there are so many options to choose from….

Balancing a variety of these three sub-categories allows many benefits that far exceed the aesthetics of the body.

The ultimate goal is improved health status which in turn translates to better quality of life.

As far as which class to take, go with what is of interest. Try many different formats and stick to the one that you like. Dr. Matt and I often say the best exercise is the one you’ll do.

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In closing, I’d like to add that it’s not going to be easy. Starting with just walking your neighborhood or some light weights at home is just that – a place to start. But getting tested to see your risk for chronic illnesses, is a smart move to get you going on your healthy aging journey. And if you’re eligible, check out SilverSneakers®. With free gym membership, you have absolutely no excuse!

Healthy aging is a choice