BY COSHANDRA DILLARD
In Tiffany Acker's Club Classic, a group fitness class at Woodcreek Athletic Club, the participants are eager to show up three times each week. Ranging from middle age to their 80s, they all recognize the importance of staying physically active at every age.
Maggi Beckmell, 80, can do a perfect plank. In her 50s, she taught her own aerobics class and has maintained a petite frame over the years.
"It's a necessity. It's a part of my life," she said about fitness.
In addition to overall fitness, Ms. Beckmell wants to strengthen her muscles and bones. Ms. Acker's class emphasizes safety first, then balance, form and strength.
"As people get older, the bones get brittle, balance gets bad, and everybody's afraid of falling," Ms. Beckmell said. "I want my muscles strong enough so that I don't fall and break something."
Exercise provides other perks, too, Ms. Beckmell noted.
"I feel better, I think better when I exercise," she said.
Weight loss is becoming an important motivator for seniors also. According to a recent National Institutes of Health report, while people are living longer lives, more are becoming obese as they age.
The report states that 38 percent of people age 65 and older were obese from 2009 to 2010, compared to 22 percent between 1988 and 1994.
In addition, 44 percent of people age 65 to 74 and 29 percent of those age 75 and older were obese from 2009 to 2010.
It's a path that James George, 73, wants to "stall." He attends group fitness classes at two Tyler gyms several times each week.
He's lost about 10 pounds recently but admits that losing weight has been hard. He wants to lose 50 more pounds.
"I want to build up my muscle mass. That burns calories, and I'll lose weight," he said between floor exercises.
He's not deterred from the hard work he has to put in and realizes it won't happen overnight.
"Just keep trying and be persistent," he advises other seniors. "I don't miss very many classes."
Lisa Wallace, who did not reveal her age, has lost 40 pounds over several years, and would like to lose more. She's had success with Weight Watchers in the past and said she hardly eats out. Exercise makes her feel empowered.
"I never feel like there's something I can't do," she said. "It just gives you a feeling that you can be independent."
For some seniors, she said, exercise can be intimidating if there are common aches and joint pain. Ms. Wallace wants to tackle weight issues now before they become a problem later in life.
"Sometimes you just have to push yourself through that," she said. "You see some people in nursing homes just sitting in a wheelchair. I don't want to be like that as an elderly person."
Ms. Wallace also noted that getting there is hard work, but it can be done with some commitment.
"Consistency is the secret," she said. "It's something that you have to stick with. A lot of people diet over a short time. They give up and gain back what they have lost. ... Don't make it so severe that it's too hard to stick with forever."
EMOTIONAL HEALTH JUST AS IMPORTANT
Ms. Acker is the glue that holds the class together and it's more than a fitness class. She has become a part of their lives. Ms. Acker remembers birthdays and other milestones.
The day before Thanksgiving, she had the class sing "Happy Birthday" to Ms. Wallace and passed out turkey-themed treats.
"This class is like family," Ms. Beckmell said. "Tiffany is the momma."
Having a social network in addition to the physical activity is important, Ms. Acker said. Some participants may live alone or have family that live out of town, so the camaraderie they receive each week helps with their emotional health as well. With the exercise, Ms. Acker said participants in her class are "happy people."
Older adults are at risk for depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of older adults have at least one chronic illness and 50 percent have two or more. While depression among seniors is relatively low -- estimated between less than 1 percent and 5 percent, -- that figure jumps to 13.5 percent in seniors who require home health care, and 11.5 percent if hospitalized.
Ms. Acker said getting older doesn't always mean you have to slow down. Her class works hard and they appear to be in good shape.
"As soon as you limit yourself, you stop progression and you deteriorate," Ms. Acker said. "I tell them, 'You're not too old. You can still develop muscles.'"
Over time, she's heard many seniors say they exercise "because the doctor said so." A few have been taken off medication.
"It changes the whole composition of the body. It's a lifestyle change," Ms. Acker said.
Her advice for seniors who want a healthier lifestyle is to talk with a doctor first, then take baby steps. She said it's important to set reasonable nutrition and fitness goals.
"It's not just about quantity of life," she said. "It's about the quality of life that you're lengthening."
Senior fitness guidelines
Two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking every week OR One hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, such as jogging or running, every week OR Plus Weight training muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms)
An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention