VICTOR — “Eat your way through the holidays, for in January we exercise!”
This merry proclamation, which was published in St. Patrick Parish’s weekly bulletin last December, was parishioners’ first introduction to Senior Sneakers, one of the parish’s latest initiatives. Through this program, an aerobics instructor from Victor’s YMCA visits the parish twice a week to lead exercise classes for senior-citizen parishioners.
Senior Sneakers began on Jan. 17 with an introductory meeting, and the semiweekly classes began Jan. 22, said Lori Cunliffe, St. Patrick’s youth and parish-life coordinator. Cunliffe started thinking about bringing the program to the parish after hearing about a similar program that has been successful at nearby St. Mary Parish in Canandaigua, she said.
Cunliffe said she is familiar with the needs and capabilities of senior citizens, in part because her mother lives with her. After talking to her mom, Cunliffe decided an exercise program would be beneficial for the parish to offer to its senior citizens.
“I thought that would be a great thing for us here,” she said.
St. Patrick’s senior citizens seem to agree so far. Parishioner Robert Zink is one of about a dozen people who usually attend the classes, which are held from 10 to 11 a.m. at the parish center each Monday and Wednesday. Zink said he wasn’t sure what to expect when he came to the first class, but so far he’s found them to be enjoyable.
Kristen Williams, an aerobics and wellness instructor with the Victor YMCA, leads the senior citizens as they lift weights, stretch and work out with exercise balls. Fitness is a growing concern among senior citizens, Williams said, noting that the Victor YMCA offers several classes geared toward “active older adults.”
“The classes over there are packed,” she added.
Many senior citizens are starting to realize that as they get older, some of their muscle groups aren’t being used as regularly as they once were, Williams said. Unused muscles atrophy and decay, and concerned senior citizens are hoping to prevent this by keeping active and participating in exercise programs such as Senior Sneakers, she said.
St. Patrick parishioner Ann Becker began attending Senior Sneakers classes when they started in late January, and by early March she said she noticed she felt more fit and healthy.
“All of this has had some wonderful medical benefits for me,” she said.
Becker, who suffers from arthritis and several other health complications, said before she joined the class she struggled with some of her everyday tasks and chores, which could cause her pain. Becker now completes those chores without pain, and she credits Senior Sneakers with increasing her strength and range of motion.
“It’s the best thing I’m doing. I can stretch more now,” she said.
Fellow parishioner Esther Munger also said her health has improved as a result of her participation in Senior Sneakers. Last year she spent several weeks in the hospital, and even when she returned home she said she didn’t feel like her normal, healthy self.
“I wasn’t very peppy, but now I’ve got my strength back,” Munger said after the March 26 class. “I think it’s wonderful. I don’t get short-winded like I used to.”
“It’s that little difference, but it’s huge for people,” Williams added. “Muscle groups that she wasn’t using six weeks ago, she is now. She can do things that she couldn’t do six weeks ago.”
Williams said she tries to tailor each class according to participants’ needs and capabilities. That was a bit challenging in the beginning, she noted, but now she’s developed a comfortable relationship with the seniors and knows what each person likes, needs and is able to do.
“We can do the exercises at all different levels. I can be standing, and people can be seated or standing depending on what they feel like doing that day,” Williams said.
St. Patrick parishioner Josephine Giampietro said she enjoys the exercises although she isn’t necessarily good at doing all of them. She said she started coming to Senior Sneakers classes because she felt like she needed to do something to improve her health, nothing that she can already tell that her abdominal muscles are getting stronger and tighter.
Giampietro exercised regularly when she was younger, but said she hadn’t done much in recent years because she hates exercising alone. This is a common complaint among people of all ages, Cunliffe noted, and the Senior Sneakers classes give participants a way to exercise while having fun with their peers.
“They’re becoming a group, more cohesive. It’s a fun group,” she said.
“I used to ride a stationary bike. This is more fun than going down in the basement by myself,” Becker added. “I think it’s an excellent opportunity for those of us that find it difficult to walk in the neighborhood or the mall. It gives you a nice place to be close to home and meet new people at your church.”