CANANDAIGUA — If you wander into Dougherty Hall on a Tuesday or Thursday morning, you’re likely to find a group of senior citizens working out with exercise balls and resistance bands. About a dozen senior citizens usually gather in the hall below St. Mary’s Parish for Fitness and Fun, a twice-a-week fitness class led by parishioner Lorraine Tucker.
Fitness and Fun began in early April, said Valerie Haynes. As director of parish life at St. Mary’s, Haynes is always looking for new activities and events to offer parishioners. While trying to come up with a new program for the parish’s senior citizens, Haynes remembered that Tucker owns and operates Functional Fitness and Training Center in Canandaigua. After talking with Haynes, Tucker volunteered to lead Fitness and Fun. The informal Dougherty Hall setting is nice, Tucker added, because some senior citizens may be financially unable or too intimidated to join a fitness center.
Tucker, who is a certified personal trainer, described the class as an injury-preventative program.
“We just want to build and maintain some muscle strength, flexibility and core balance, which in turn will help them avoid injury in the future,” she said.
Tucker begins each class by leading the seniors through a series of warm-up stretches and exercises with resistance bands. She then sets up a circuit while the participants take a short water break. The circuit includes several exercise balls, Pilates bands and a small inflatable dome. Many of these things used to scare the seniors, but Tucker said it’s amazing to see how far they’ve come in just a few months.
“You should have seen them on the first day. I walked in with the ball and they all looked at me like, ‘No way, I’m not sitting on that thing,'” she recalled.
At the June 23 Fitness and Fun class, most of the stations in the circuit Tucker had set up included exercise balls, but the seniors didn’t seem to mind. At one station they sat on the ball while doing overhead chest presses with a bar, and at another they laid back on the ball with their legs out in front of them, knees bent, and did crunches.
Although they’ve mastered it, the dome is still not exactly popular among the seniors. At this station, a person balances on top of the dome, and those who feel especially comfortable with the dome balance on it while doing slow squats.
Although the dome exercise is her least favorite part of the sessions, Josephine Mardis said she has been impressed with the Fitness and Fun classes overall.
“I lost an inch,” she announced before the class began. “I was going to wear a sexy outfit but I was afraid the male population would go into convulsions.”
Mardis may have joked about her accomplishment, but she is thinking about it the right way, Tucker said.
“It’s about the inches. It’s about the measuring tape. It’s not about the scale,” she said.
Mardis said she joined the group in order to “lose my tummy and some inches around the waist.”
Marie Kudla and Barbara Torrell said the classes are a good way to work some of the muscles they don’t normally use. Both said they’ve noticed that those previously underworked muscles have felt stronger lately. This newfound strength and flexibility has helped them in everyday chores, even small ones such as stooping to pick up items from the lower shelves in grocery stores, Torrell said.
One woman who regularly attends the classes said they’ve helped her improve her golf swing, and she even won her first tournament in mid-June, Tucker said.
The classes also are a good way to meet other people in the parish and community, said Elizabeth Johnston. The seniors have formed friendships and banter good-naturedly during the classes, and this camaraderie plays a part in bringing people back week after week, said Carol Fox, who has participated in the classes since they began. Fox, whose husband, Phil, occasionally joins her at Fitness and Fun, said she has exercise equipment at home but finds it difficult to be motivated and disciplined enough to use it by herself.
“It’s more fun as a group. It’s a learning experience,” Torrell said.
So far the seniors have enjoyed the classes, which are exactly what some of them had been looking for, said Haynes, who participates in the classes as well.
“I always tell them I wouldn’t bring anything for them that I wouldn’t do myself,” she said.
The seniors are often able to do a lot more than they at first think they can, Tucker said, and watching them discover their capabilities and increase their strength can be inspiring.
“I walk in there and my brain is filled with my stresses,” Tucker said. “I walk out of there some days with a totally different perspective.”