Even before warm-ups for their fitness class started, the two septuagenarians lapped the hardwood floor at the University of Miami’s Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center in Coral Gables.
Ronald Clark, 78, and Joe Realini, 77, walked side by side, each one pushing the other to amble a little faster. No sooner had the men rounded the room a third time when their 86-year-old classmate, and now good friend, George Giampetro, joined in, each of them glancing down at the pedometers on their smart phones. Giampetro, the longtime owner of Whip ‘n Dip Ice Cream on Sunset Drive, beamed proudly that by 8 a.m. that day he’d already logged more than 5,000 steps. Clark smiled and read his number: 9,890.
“I walk between 10,000 and 13,000 steps every day,” said Giampetro. “The philosophy is: If you keep moving, they can’t throw dirt on your face,” he quipped.
The men are three of 12 or so regulars at UM’s exercise program for adults 65 years and older: Living Independently through Fitness and Exercise (LIFE). They did not know each other before taking the class. Now they meet for coffee and several of them get together once a week at The Rusty Pelican on Key Biscayne.
LIFE is one of several exercise programs in the Miami area that is geared toward active adults. Walking, Zumba, Tai-Chi and high-energy exercise classes are offered by Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation Department, Baptist Health South Florida and Memorial Healthcare System.
Joseph Signorile, a professor of kinesiology at UM’s Coral Gables campus who earned a doctorate in exercise physiology, said keeping your body moving can curb the extent to which arthritis, heart disease and diabetes affect a person. Additionally, exercise such as walking has been shown to help people who suffer from high blood pressure and balance problems. Folks who exercise a lot may even be able to cancel their prescriptions or cut the dosage.
Researchers and medical professionals can’t promise that exercise will cure people’s maladies, he said. However, “We can promise through an exercise program targeted to individuals’ specific needs that we are going to increase your independence and reduce the probability of falls.”
Falling was the last thing on 93-year-old Mary Louise Smith’s mind as she punched the air at Dadeland Mall recently. A member of Baptist Health South Florida’s mall walkers group, which meets at 9 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Smith said she likes the way instructor Tim Chin begins every Friday class with warm-ups, then flows into Tai-Chi.
“This keeps me motivated,” she said, walking alongside her daughter, Pam Wright, 69, who takes the class with her. “I see other people my age or younger and they’re in wheelchairs or have walkers. I don’t have a cane – and I don’t want one,” she said, plodding toward Macy’s.
Balance is another key benefit to regular exercise among older adults, said Tony Musto, director of UM’s Wellness Center in Coral Gables. Musto, who earned a doctorate in exercise physiology, explained that people lose muscle mass through the natural course of aging. The exercises and circuit training (11 machines that produce a full-body workout) that are part of the LIFE program are designed to offset the natural course of aging and focus on agility, strength and balance.
“Balance is a big deal,” Realini interjected, working his quadratic muscles on the leg press machine.
Realini, like much of the LIFE group, first came to the program some 10 years ago. In that time, he said, he’s noticed an improvement in how he feels – both mentally and physically. Clark, his buddy, concurred, noting the work he’s done in this class over the last eight years has strengthened his core. That goes a long way to improving balance, which is helpful when the avid Metrorail rider gets bumped or jarred from a quick stop.
Allan Tavss, coordinator of senior programs for Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department, said many people aged 55 and older, such as himself don’t feel old and therefore don’t much like the term “senior citizen.” Tavss, who is 73, is an “active adult” who is bothered when he doesn’t walk or perform some kind of exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.
“I want to be happier and healthier and live longer. I’d rather do something active than be that TV watcher every day,” he said.
A favorite among the classes offered by the parks department is EnhanceFitness —a bit more of a rigorous cardiovascular program.
“People have seen dramatic changes in their lives, health-wise,” he said.
Over at Memorial Fitness Center in Hollywood, the seven perspiring participants of Jeri Beaucaire’s 9 a.m. Morning Motion class smiled as widely as their pigtailed instructor. Beaucaire, who has been a fitness instructor for 36 years (and a dancer and weight lifter for more than 40 years) chooses a mix of genres of upbeat music – country, classic rock, African rhythm and salsa for her exercise routines.
As the women, whose ages range from the mid-60s to the 80s, pumped two-pound weights in the air to Irene Cara’s “Flashdance What a Feeling,” Beaucaire kept encouraging them to work it harder and tighten their abs.
Barbara Johns, 77, did just that.
To watch the Hollywood Hills resident bend, squat and pivot, you’d never know that she lost part of her lung to cancer three and a half years ago. Johns, and her medical team, including Belinda Peters, a nurse practitioner and personal trainer at Memorial Fitness Center, attribute Johns’ athletic prowess and her positive outlook to her speedy recovery.
“Jeri is amazing,’’ Johns said. “She makes it so fun that suddenly the class is over and you don’t even realize you’re done.”
The “fun” aspect and the camaraderie that often accompany active adult fitness classes are two characteristics that keep participants coming back, said Jennifer Ausiello, exercise and screening supervisor for Baptist Health’s community health programs. But taking that first step, both physically and mentally, in deciding to take a class, can be the hardest part, she said.
Ausiello, herself a personal trainer who works with younger and older adults, said it can be challenging to shift the mindset of folks in their 70s. They often see themselves as slowing down and declining, and think they won’t be able to do any of the exercises. Some, they probably can’t, she said – but instructors modify them.
“Exercise is medicine. The natural aging process does not have to be riddled with injuries,” she said.
People who have never gone to a gym or taken a group glass can be intimidated, Ausiello said. Still, she suggests to anyone who doubts they will receive any benefit from an exercise program to go to one. Then, she said, be consistent.
Ausiello, like the other trainers, researchers and exercise physiologists, predict in a month those who exercise regularly will feel better physically and mentally.
And, she said, probably have a new social circle.
▪ Baptist Health South Florida
▪ University of Miami
▪ Memorial Regional Fitness Center
▪ Miami-Dade Parks and Recreation