The classes taught at the Freedom Center and the Manassas Senior Center are specially designed for people over the age of 55 interested in continuing fitness.
Seventy-four-year-old Luther Little began exercising at the Freedom Center when he and his wife moved to the area 14 months ago.
“After I retired I realized I was just sitting around getting fat and not doing much,” Little said.
The Freedom Center’s Smart Moves class offered the kind of workout Little was looking for.
“The great thing about Tati [McAlister]’s class is that we get to accomplish all these different kinds of things. We work on a variety of equipment and do different kinds of exercises,” Little said.
At the Manassas Senior Center, about 12 students, most of whom are in their 70s or 80s, meet on Monday mornings to exercise; at the Freedom Center, a slightly younger group of as many as 16 students over the age of 55 meet on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Both classes are low-impact, meaning all of the activities allow participants to keep one foot on the floor at a time.
Senior fitness classes may look slightly different than the classes one may traditionally think of as aerobics.
The workout in senior classes is performed at a slower pace than other fitness classes and the contents adjusted to meet the specific needs of the students, McAlister said.
“One important thing is that you’re not in competition with anybody in these classes. You set your own pace and do what your body tells you to do. You do your own thing to the extent of what you’re capable of doing,” Little said.
“When you teach seniors, you have to get to know them personally,” she said, “I build friendships with them.”
Seniors need to share information such as age and health history with their instructors, so the workout may be tailored to meet their needs, McAlister said.
“Most of these seniors have some limitation,” McAlister said of her senior center class.
Throughout the workout, McAlister offers her student options of a more or less intensive activity so that they may work at their own pace and avoid placing extra stress on injured areas.
“Everyone’s on a different level in the class. The younger people can do more hops, skips and jumps. My legs don’t let me do all of that anymore. I just do what I can,” Little said.
Another different aspect of the class is the music. During McAlister’s classes, the traditionally fast-paced workout music is replaced by slower tempo music from the 1940s and ’50s
“This is the music these people grew up with,” McAlister said.
In addition to being familiar to the students, the slow beat count of the music keeps the seniors working at a slow pace, McAlister said.
McAlister, who has taught fitness to seniors for five and a half years, stresses the importance of seniors exercising.
“Lots of people come to class and stay just one or two times. It’s important to get involved and stay involved,” Little said.
The classes focus on a different area of fitness each week including cardiovascular fitness, aerobics, muscle toning, flexibility, and balance.
“Flexibility and balance are particularly important. It’s important to maintain a good range of motion as you get older,” McAlister said.
June Peterson, a fitness student at the Manassas Senior Center, joined a fitness class after receiving a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
“Since I started [exercising], my condition has not gotten any worse,” Peterson said.
Safety is stressed throughout the classes.
Students check their heart rate in the middle of the workout and at the end of class, after the cool down portion of the workout.
Water is nearby throughout the classes and McAlister constantly reminds her students of the importance of drinking enough water.
“We always have plenty of water around. I tell them to, ‘Rehydrate, rehydrate, rehydrate’,” McAlister said.
Many of the seniors in McAlister’s classes feel that exercising helps them stay fit and healthy.
“I hope that more seniors who are living sedentary lives will see that they can be active and should exercise,” McAlister said.
For 85-year-old Sherman Johnson, who “has been exercising forever,” according to McAlister, the benefits of exercise are simple.
“I get to keep on living,” Johnson said.