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Active at any age: Demystifying healthy living

OLLI exercisers making new friends, new moves, new pathways to health.

At age 75, Judy had become a “couch potato” when she decided to try my fitness class, Cardio Barre, which infuses ballet moves with fundamental cardio exercises.

“I thought maybe I was too old to do an aerobics class. And I have never liked an exercise class before this,” Judy said. “When I started this class, I had not exercised in about a year. I had been sitting, doing nothing. So when I got here, I couldn’t even get up off the floor. Anyway, gradually each time I would improve a little bit, and then suddenly one day, I was rolling my body up and standing up without getting on my hands and knees first!”

Judy’s success story is one of many at the Ashland Family YMCA. The key is to start slowly and respect limitations. I demonstrated modifications for Judy when she first started so the class could be accessible to her. And Judy persevered. She shared with me and the class, “Each time I feel a little stronger. You know, I can tell at home when I go up and down stairs, I’m not ‘creaking’ as much. And I feel so much better overall.”

Judy is not alone. Research shows that active individuals, regardless of age, experience improved quality of life, remain independent longer, and are less likely to fall than their inactive counterparts. But for many people, overcoming barriers to exercise has proved difficult. Barriers are numerous, such as lack of motivation, discomfort or pain, fear of injury, fixed income, embarrassment, desire to lose weight before joining a gym, and more. But help is on the way.

Because the Ashland YMCA and OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at Southern Oregon University share a common goal — to promote healthy, active aging and lifelong learning, they joined forces in 2019 to bring health and wellness programming opportunities to the community. Hence, the spring 2021 OLLI class “Demystifying Healthy Living” was born. I will facilitate the class, along with a few of my colleagues who will chime in on their area of expertise.

The class will offer suggestions to help people overcome barriers by providing safe and fun exercises — all in the comfort of your home through YouTube videos and then a live Q&A session via Zoom. If you ever thought of trying yoga, Pilates, barre, kickboxing or any other type of exercise, now is the time as this class will provide a basic introduction to these exercises and more to help people get off the couch and have some fun.

There is no better time than now. According to a CDC report published in 2016, “More than one in four U.S. adults over 50 do not engage in regular physical activity. Inactivity puts 31 million at risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.” A sedentary lifestyle is a major public health burden causing multiple chronic diseases and premature deaths every year.

Now for the good news: In addition to the plethora of health benefits garnered through a regular exercise program, there is a growing body of evidence to support its effects on brain health. Exercise slows cognitive decline and stimulates chemical changes in the brain that enhance learning, mood and thinking.

The intersection of the benefits between exercise and brain health is undeniable. Even Albert Einstein knew this. In reference to the Theory of Relativity, he famously said, “I thought of that while riding my bicycle.”

The OLLI/YMCA class will benefit beginner exercisers as well as those who are getting back into the game. Participants will learn basic strength, cardiovascular, flexibility and balance exercises. The format will include simple weight training, an introduction to yoga, how to take fitness to the next level, and how to create a simple home gym. The goal is to get people moving, learning and having fun in the process.

As the mind and body become stronger, we have the ability to do all the things we enjoy without restriction. Maybe we want to spend more active time with the grandkids, improve our golf game, enjoy gardening again, or maybe even train to run a marathon. Or it could be as simple as walking up the steps without creaking. Or getting up off the floor easily as Judy is now able to do.

“I like this class so much and look forward to coming,” Judy said after barre class. “It’s fun and reminds me of my childhood ballet class.”

Information to join OLLI and enroll in this class (plus view the full spring course catalog) can be found at www.inside.sou.edu/olli.

Jami Hanna is the healthy living director at the Ashland Family YMCA, as well as a certified personal trainer and certified yoga teacher.