Senior fitness

MARQUETTE – The exercise programs offered by Marquette Senior Services are about more than just getting in shape. The groups also lead to lasting friendships and support, said many of the women who participate.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the center, located in Marquette City Hall, hosts two programs. At 9 a.m., there is a high-intensity aerobics class in the Baraga gym taught by fitness instructor and retired RN Paula Saari and, at 10:30 a.m., a lower-intensity workout in the basement. The classes are open to both men and women free of charge.

Saari said she believes cardiovascular exercise for seniors is critical.

“Heart disease is the number one killer of women, post-menopausal,” Saari said. “And to be able to work this hard and know they’re toning their hearts…maintaining bone strength and staying healthy, I just think it’s so important.”

Saari, certified through the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America, directed the assisted living program at Marquette General Hospital for 10 years and has been teaching fitness for almost 30 years. Now, retired, she is excited to offer fitness free of charge to the senior population – and to anyone, since they welcome all ages, she said.

“I just think fitness should be free,” Saari said.

About 20 women participate in the hour-long class, which is almost two years old and focuses on cardiovascular work – drills, laps, strength-training, calisthenics, intervals, repetitions and some stretching.

“These women work hard,” Saari said. “And the 76-year-olds, they are my heroes…You don’t have to stop (exercising) as you age, and you don’t have to stop the intensity as you age. You just have to modify it.”

New participants are welcome and should wear casual workout clothing and bring a yoga mat and a set of weights between three and 10 pounds, Saari said. There are lockers and changing facilities on site, and the gym provides lots of space to spread out.

“We just all love sweating together and working hard together,” Saari said.

Volunteer instructor Sandi Hendrickson appreciates the support too.

“What I like about it is, it’s not the gym atmosphere where everybody there is already 99 pounds,” she said. “Here, you can come and feel relaxed, and you are what you are. And if you can do it, fine, and if you can’t, fine.”

Cathy Brumm, who has participated since the beginning, said she might be off of her blood pressure medication by the end of the year.

“When you get to be in the 60-plus group, and you look at people in their 80’s that didn’t do this kind of stuff, you know, they have major heart problems, major balance problems – all that kind of stuff that I’m trying to avoid,” Brumm said.

She said it doesn’t matter how old participants are; modifications make too-difficult exercises manageable for any skill level.

“We honor our ages; we honor our bodies,” she said.

For the less rambunctious, at 10:30 a.m. on the same days, an over 30-year-old program with a much gentler level of intensity takes place downstairs in the basement. On Mondays and Fridays, there are chair exercises led by a video instructor, and on Wednesdays, two instructors from the Marquette YMCA alternate teaching yoga and other low-intensity movements. On average, about 20 women attend, with room for more.

Pamela Murray has been coming for six years and said she has noticed marked improvement in her health and sleeping patterns, but especially appreciates the community.

“I just think this is like my second family,” she said. “It’s a really good group of people, and we just all get along so well, and we care about each other. It’s just a really neat place to come with this group.”

Donna Boyer started attending eight years ago because arthritis – which she has had for 30 years – started keeping her from swimming. The only thing she questions are the snacks provided, in which she doesn’t indulge, she said.

“They said this isn’t for losing weight; this is for stretching and toning. So we say, ‘We stretch for the donut and we pull it back and tone, and we stretch and we tone’- I just thought, ‘What is this all about?'” she said, laughing. “But it’s a good program to keep you active.”

Murray said she loves the yoga and breathing exercises because of the strong mind and body connection she feels. It helps her relax and sleep, she said.

“I could actually feel my insides relaxing, and I was in tune with it,” Murray said.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.