By WALTER MUNDAY
Parks are designed to bring together people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Park and Recreation agencies are tasked with creating healthy communities by managing and in some cases enhancing an area’s physical environment. On a daily basis, these agencies manage recreational facilities and landscapes, fabricated playscapes and protect natural areas to ensure its residents have a higher quality of life in which to live, work and play.
Equally as important, they also create and manage classes and programs which provide residents with opportunities to fully engage in healthy activities. Such activities may include basketball, golf, pickleball, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, yoga, and Zumba, but there are so many others.
Many of those taking advantage of these classes are not just children and teens like in years past – they also include Baby Boomers, many of whom have reached the age of 65. They’re registering for classes at an increased rate. According to the 2017 Census estimates, there are 47 million seniors living in the U.S., and that population is expected to double by 2060. People are living longer, and park and recreation agencies are adjusting to ensure its menu of programs and activities appeal to a broader age group.
One such class that has become very popular nationally over the last decade is SilverSneakers® by Tivity Health™. This class is the nation’s leading exercise program designed exclusively for older adults and is available – at no cost – through many Medicare health plans, Medicare Supplement carriers and group retiree plans. Louisville Parks and Recreation offers SilverSneakers® at six locations.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit several of our sites which offer Silver Sneakers, and speak with some of the participants. My first stop was at Beechmont Community Center where 92-year-old Ms. AB Roman is a member. A “proud south-ender”, Ms. AB has been participating in the class for three years. Her daughter thought it would be a good idea for her mother to get some exercise. Ms. AB moves around on a walker these days, but don’t let that fool you. She attends the class with her niece twice a week.
On the day I visited the class, the regular instructor (Tonya Cowden) was on vacation, so another staff member (Deondre Wynn) led the class. It was his first time teaching Silver Sneakers at this location.
“That young man is no Tonya; he didn’t work us out hard enough today,” said Ms. AB as she and her niece chuckled.
The participants at Beechmont take their Silver Sneakers class seriously. At the same time, they have fun, and enjoy making new friends. Ms. AB made it very clear that it wasn’t just about the exercise, but the opportunity to meet new people and make new “buddies”.
As mentioned earlier, Silver Sneakers is geared toward older adults. During the class, participants use light weights, bands and fitness balls to help with increased muscle strength, range of motion and exercises to help improved their mobility.
“I can do it. I always try to do as much as I can for myself,” as Ms. AB quickly shared with me when I tried to help her with her chair.
“Of course, I’m 92 years old, so I can’t do everything, but I sure try.”
Ms. AB lives in the Wilder Park neighborhood, and has been active with her neighborhood association for several decades.
“She’s such an inspiration to all of us here at the center,” said Tonya Cowden, the center supervisor who I spoke with later. “We just love Ms. AB!”
A few days later, I had the chance to travel over to the Highlands-Douglass neighborhood to check out the Douglass Community Center’s Silver Sneakers class. Even with single-digit temps in the area, this was the largest class of those I visited with more than 30 participating.
While taking some pictures of the class, I noticed one familiar face. A gentleman who frequents a coffee shop I stop in every now and then. His name is Jack Huber, a Silver Sneakers regular.
Following the class, I had a chance to meet with Mr. Jack, who has been participating in Silver Sneakers for 10 years. At 83 years old, Mr. Jack, a retired AT&T/Bellsouth employee, walks three (3) miles a day – five (5) days a week. In addition, he participates in yoga, and loves to dance. I asked him what advice he’d offer to others regarding trying to stay fit, and his response was quick,
“Whatever you’re doing to stay active, never stop!”
Another Douglass participant – Kay Maurer – has been participating in Silver Sneakers for about 18 months. A retired dietician with Baptist Floyd County Hospital, Ms. Kay recognizes that proper eating habits is important to maintaining good health, but was quick to point out that there’s more to it. She joined the class following a surgery, and indicates that Silver Sneakers helps keep her arthritis at bay. She said,
“Silver Sneakers keeps me going; it allows me to more mobile and move with much less pain.”
Across town at the Berrytown Recreation Center, I met three delightful ladies; two of which are Silver Sneaker vets. Ms. Rose (78) and Ms. Minnie (83) have been participating in Silver Sneakers for at least 10 years. They were introduced to the program at the former Berrytown YMCA which once occupied the facility. Ms. Rose, probably the youngest looking 78 year-old I’ve ever seen, is a regular at the class, and also utilizes the indoor walking track at the facility.
“I love Silver Sneakers! I also love the friendships and outings we take as a group,” said Ms. Rose.
“We’ve toured the Louisville Slugger Museum, Riverside, the Farnsley-Moremen Landing, Locust Grove and several other places along with lunch.”
Ms. Margaret (86) has been participating in Silver Sneakers for about two years. She indicates that the class has helped strengthen her upper body, and has helped improved her mobility.
She pointed to her new Fitbit her kids purchased for her recently. She and her family have started a family challenge to see who takes the most steps daily.
“I’m a little behind, but hey… I’m 86 years-old; I’m getting there!”
Another physical exercise program that’s proving to improve the health of baby boomers and others is Aquatic Exercise Therapy Programs. These programs are especially enticing to those with restricted mobility. Exercising in water is proven to help with reducing arthritis and other joint pain. The buoyance of the water helps to build strength without applying pressure to the joints. An article published several years ago by Stacy Lynch points to research which recognizes the cognitive benefits of Aquatic Therapy in regard to the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Louisville Parks and Recreation offers several Aquatic Therapy and Fitness Classes at the Mary T. Meagher Aquatic Center including a Deep Water Exercise Class, Aquatics Bootcamp and Aqua Fitness classes.
Lucinda Tapp is a regular participant at Mary T. She visits the center about six days a week participating in Mary T.’s Aquatic Boot Camp, and Land Boot Camp. Ms. Lucinda, 78, was born right behind the center on Pennsylvania Avenue and remembers swimming in the old outdoor pool which closed around 1954. When asked about staying fit, she simply said,
“The more active you are, the better your blood flow and increased mobility,” said Ms. Lucinda. I tell myself daily, “Don’t give up!”
While visiting the Mary T, I had the chance to meet and talk with two other center participants.
Al Meichler is a 92 year-old emigrate from Germany. He and his wife Irmgard migrated to the US 65 years ago. He has lived on Crescent Avenue since 1953. His wife passed away in four years ago. Soon, Mr. Al is moving to California to live with his son, but wanted to share with me how much he loves Louisville and Mary T.
Mr. Meichler has been a regular morning swimmer at Mary T for more than 25 years. He also work out in the gym there.
Mr. Al shared his key to life which is, “Exercise and live life to the fullest!”
And the last person I spoke with was 79-year-old Versa Tucker who was participating in an Aqua Aerobics Class. She’s been traveling from her Smoketown neighborhood to participate in the class for about six months. She points to her increased mobility as the reason why she returns week after week.
Lessons learned from my visits to Beechmont, Douglass, Berrytown and Mary T. can be summarized easily; Exercise is good for the body as well as for the soul. The seniors I spoke with and the others I watched participate in the Silver Sneakers and Aquatic Fitness programs were smiling and full of enthusiasm. As our population continues to include escalating numbers in the post 65 age group, the importance of programs such as Silver Sneakers and Aquatic Fitness/Therapy grows.
As noted poet/philosopher Henry David Thoreau once said, “None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”
Exercising makes you feel better, and when you feel better and are filled with energy and enthusiasm, that helps to improve one’s quality of life which in turn, helps many live longer, more fulfilling lives.