It wasn't like Judy Pink to be an hour late for her morning exercises with the personal trainer, but she got caught up in the newspaper and lost track of time.
"I was reading the obit page and I wasn't in them – so I'm happy!" Pink said.
But there was never really much question she would show up. In between biceps curls with trainer Taylor Hahn, the 83-year-old grandmother and breast cancer survivor explained that while she does ride her stationary bike in her apartment at the Alexian Village, she also comes to the Fit For Life gym right on campus, full of treadmills, medicine balls and free weights, to work out.
"I've got to do it – am I going to sit up in my apartment all day?" said Pink, eyebrows arched. "My three sons signed me up for this. They said, 'Mother, get on it.' "
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Alexian Village is an independent living and long-term care community. The average age of a resident is between 85 and 87 years old, so Fit For Life is a different kind of gym. All of the exercises here are essential to maintain functional fitness.
That means having the strength to get in and out of a chair – or on and off a toilet –independently. Or being able to rotate the shoulders to carry a bag or a purse.
Residents can work with trainers in the Fit For Life gym, or take group classes – such as balloon volleyball, chair yoga and something called Brains and Balance – in the recreational room.
"Balloon volleyball gets very competitive," Hahn said.
The cost is between $25 and $40 a month and there are classes almost every day, including weekends.
There are 135 members of the gym, and John Burns, 67, believes he's the youngest resident. The former owner of the local Heinemann's restaurant chain suffered a stroke 21 years ago, but he wouldn't accept the prognosis that he'd never walk again.
So at the gym he practices getting up and down from his chair using his own strength.
His other purpose is to banter back and forth with Pink.
"She just got out of prison," he teased. "I jolly up the people."
Burns treats these sessions seriously but grins the whole time, putting full effort into his shoulder presses, ab crunches, balance exercises and stationary bike rides.
Paul Weninger, 88, has survived so many things in his life: a new hip, new knee and spinal fusion, and he thinks he may have received the first corneal transplant at St. Luke's Hospital.
"It isn't because I wanted them," Weninger said.
He's been coming to Fit for Life classes for two years now.
"If I don't come down here for a week, I stiffen up," Weninger said. "Use it or lose it."
It takes a special kind of trainer with patience, social skills and a great deal of empathy to work with clients who have lived 50 years longer and endure arthritis, chronic pain, loss of function.
" 'I woke up on the right side of the ground today' is another common refrain around here," Hahn said.
Some of the residents think Hahn is their wife – and she doesn't correct them.
One resident, who used to be a clown, doesn't say much, but the trainers know she really looks forward to the piece of candy they give her after her workout.
"Getting old is all about a series of losses," said another personal trainer, Robin Koopmeiners. "Spouses, family members, home, ability to drive. The goal is about maintaining that independence as long as possible."
Exercise at any age improves immune function, heart health and bone density, and reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis.
Exercise has mental benefits too. Residents can feel trapped in their room, or cut off from socializing or depressed. With exercise, they experience improved levels of dopamine and serotonin, which can enhance mood.
"And it doesn't have to be rigorous; it can be moderate," Koopmeiners said.