Seniors focusing more on health, exercise

The Silver Sneakers program at Fitness World  Health Center has nearly tripled in size this past year, with more than 50 members attending most classes. 

The class is designed to help anyone, no matter their age or fitness level, to keep moving and gain some physical fitness. 

At 8 a.m. Friday, members of the class filtered into the gym, gathering weights, exercise balls and chairs to prepare for the class. 

Martha Varble of Jacksonville has been attending the class for about 12 years and was one of the original members of the program.  

“We used to be downstairs in a small room, but it has just grown and grown,” Varble said. “There is such a sense of mental and physical wellbeing. I joined because I wanted to remain active and stay fit.”

With members of all ages — the oldest is 94 — the class caters to all physical requirements and helps modify exercises to each person’s needs and abilities. 

That’s what draws many older people to the class. 

Instructor Kristie Maro said the class is designed to help people gain and improve movement and health. 

“There is a stigma of if you are old, you can’t do this stuff,” Maro said. “The point of the class is to start slowly, and they’ve done great things.”

Age doesn’t matter in the class, Maro said. 

The class isn’t about becoming a weightlifting champion — unless that is a member’s goal — but instead to keep them independent and able to do everyday things, Maro said. 

For example, one of her favorite stories to tell is that of an 84-year-old man who was unable to do something as simple as pour a glass of tea from a pitcher on the top shelf of the refrigerator, she said. 

“He just couldn’t get the pitcher out of the fridge and, for an average person, that sounds like nothing,” Maro said. “He came through and, one day, without even realizing it, he went home and poured himself a glass. Others can’t put on their shoes themselves and move to slip on shoes. This is what it’s about — helping them to be able to do everyday-living tasks normally.”

The class has grown. 

The class has continuously increased in size but has nearly tripled in size in the past year, Fitness World owner Rachel Rohn said. 

“It’s really because of our members,” Rohn said. “They’ll bring a friend who will join and bring a friend.” 

Bonnie and Luther Gain of Jacksonville have been attending the class for about a year and said it has helped them loosen up. 

“I’m not as sore as I once was,” Bonnie Gain said. 

“I have more energy, I’m looser and have a better state of mind,” Luther Gain added. 

The Gains said they joined to become more physically fit and also, because they enjoy seeing friends in the class.  

Joey Bentley of Jacksonville said it’s not only the physical aspect but simply getting out and doing something that has helped. 

“It’s also a social thing,” Bentley said. “We come and are connected to some many others, make new friends and reconnect with old friends. We encourage each other.” 

Rohn said she is glad to see more older people taking an interest in their physical fitness.

“I believe that everybody who walks in has the option and ability to go past their comfort zone, even though it might take a while,” Rohn said. “There is nothing that (is limited) to one specific age level.”