Health & Fitness

Keeping the body and soul in top shape

STEP BY STEP: Edith Meister 90, center, is recovering from surgery and taking aerobic classes at Baptist Medical Plaza in Westchester.
STEP BY STEP: Edith Meister 90, center, is recovering from surgery and taking aerobic classes at Baptist Medical Plaza in Westchester. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

In West Little River, a new senior center with a pool, gym and social space has given new life to sedentary seniors.

At the Baptist Medical Plaza in Westchester, 20 seniors dance to remixes of All About That Bass and Bang, Bang.

And at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, seniors use resistance bands, medicine balls and stability balls to strengthen their muscles.

Senior fitness programs are expanding throughout South Florida, being held in parks, community centers, hospital wellness facilities and anywhere that seniors gather. They’re helping adults build their strength and their social networks through the camaraderie that develops when people engage in a common cause.

Rob Herzog, director of fitness and sports medicine for the Memorial Healthcare System, said that as people age, they tend to limit their movements as they start feeling aches and pains.

“The thing about muscles and flexibility as we get older is that connective tissue thickens and mobility can be reduced pretty quickly,” Herzog said. “You feel weak and less flexible, and falling can be a real serious issue for you. So you start protecting your movements.”

Protecting movement means moving less or moving rigidly, without the natural sway of the body’s joints. That behavior can affect body composition, muscle mass, joint mobility and metabolism — all the things that keep you moving. Herzog said keeping the body active through strength training is crucial to seniors’ independence.

“Think about what you like to do and what you want to be able to do in your life,” he said. “You want to walk through the mall or go to Publix without fear of falling. You want to go out and golf a little more.”

Here, then, are a few ways to keep you moving:

Pool and parties at Arcola Lakes

Rhonda Johnson, 63, has been exercising at the Arcola Lakes Senior Center in West Little River since it opened last July. The county parks department runs the center, its first one dedicated to senior fitness.

“I live around the corner and I was so excited when it opened,” she said.

Johnson goes to the center’s EnhanceFitness classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The class consists of cardiovascular and low-impact strength training exercises with a little bit of boxing and dancing.

Johnson’s doctor told her she needed to move more. Since she started exercising at the center, she’s been sleeping and walking better and . Exercising has also helped reduce her fibromyalgia pain.

“My goal coming in was to move better, and I’m doing that with less pain,” she said.

The new pool and water exercise classes have been a big hit. Marjorie Young, 91, who is recovering from knee surgery, participates a few times a week.

“The pool is heated and the water helps me,” she said. “I enjoy it. I really do.”

The senior center also offers tennis classes, Tai-Chi, strength training, balance, stretching and introductory swim classes. And it’s become more than a place for seniors to exercise; it’s a place for them to socialize. A Senior Citizens Club hosts parties, field trips and regular meetings.

“Everyone loves coming here,” said Rodger Aikens, the center’s pool manager and water exercise instructor. “Everyone enjoys seeing each other’s faces every day, and they become part of your family. This isn’t a job to me.”

Arcola Lakes Senior Center classes are free, but registration is required. For information, call 305-694-2728. Miami-Dade County Parks has a comprehensive Active Older Adults program for those 55 and up. For more information, call 786-372-9701 or go to

Aerobics at Baptist

Edith Meister fell in her living room last October.

“I got to the phone scooting on my bottom,” she said. “Not long after that 9-1-1 was lighting up my neighborhood.”

Meister, who is in her 80s, fell twice in 2014 and both falls required surgery. She has titanium rods in her legs and is still recovering from the fall she took in October. Her injuries haven’t kept her down, though.

Meister participates in an aerobics class using her walker at the Baptist Memorial Plaza in Westchester. She exercises her legs and arms and is working on regaining her balance. She can now let go of the walker when she stands with her feet apart.

“We have the most delightful people watching us,” she said. “My instructor told me I’m doing better.”

The aerobics class features stretching, dancing, balance and flexibility exercises. The instructor has participants do chair squats to work on legs and knees as well as leg curls using light ankle weights.

“The objective is to move,” said Nan Imbesi, a community fitness instructor for Baptist Health System. “Anything they do to move benefits them. We do balance, coordination and strength. The movements are simple enough for them to follow but not so repetitive that they know what’s coming next.”

Alberto Benavides, 67, a therapist and life coach, was the only man participating in a recent class. He said more men should take care of their health and participate in fitness programs.

“That’s why we don’t live as long,” he said.

He waited about four months to get into the aerobics class; the class has a waiting list of about 20 people.

“I kept calling and insisting to try to get in the class,” he said. “Exercising helps prevent illness and these classes have a social component to them, too. We connect with people and become less isolated.”

The Westchester center also offers Tai-chi, which has a waiting list of about 80 people, cardio and sculpting classes, Pilates and Zumba. For information about Baptist Health’s free community exercise programs, email or call 786-467-5680.

LIFE Fitness at the University of Miami

Tony Musto, director of fitness programs at the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center at the University of Miami, says that exercising is like a retirement account — you want to build up your strength, endurance and overall health so you’re not running low when you need it.

That’s what the LIFE program — Living Independently through Fitness and Exercise — is all about.

“The aging population experiences a lot of the natural effects of aging, like loss of muscle mass and bone mass, an increase in blood pressure and cholesterol, an increase in falls and loss of balance,” Musto said. “Exercise is reversal of all those things.”

Joe Realini, 76, has participated in the LIFE program since 2003.

“I think exercising is just a healthy thing to do,” Realini said. “I do it to remain fit and to maintain my weight. It just keeps you happy and active and it makes me feel good.”

For people who haven’t always been active but would like to start somewhere, Musto suggests reducing sedentary behavior.

“If you sit a lot or watch a lot of TV, decrease your sedentary time,” he said. “Get up more often. Get out of chair and move around a little.”

Musto said walking for even 10 to 15 minutes helps: “People have to understand that everyone starts somewhere.”

The LIFE program is held at the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center, 1201 Theo Dickinson Dr., Coral Gables. The program offers 36 sessions, and the fitness classes are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The classes focus on strength training Mondays and Fridays and functional training for balance and agility on Wednesdays. For information call 305-284-8500.

Strength training at Memorial

Barbara Goldberg’s active lifestyle enabled her to stop taking medication for osteoporosis and high blood pressure.

Goldberg, 73, goes to a fitness class three days a week at Memorial Regional Hospital’s fitness and rehabilitation center in Hollywood. She has been going there for two years.

“Going to a class where you meet other people and they’re glad to see you, you’re doing something good for yourself,” she said.

Goldberg and the others go through a routine of stretching, cardio, dance and strength training. They use weights, resistance bands and other equipment to exercise legs, chest and arms.

Herzog, director of fitness and sports medicine for the Memorial Healthcare System, said the classes work on exercising the main stabilizers of the body.

“We get them to use the muscles that first shut down when you’re inactive — the core, hips and glute muscles,” he said.

The functional training portion of the class works on improving range of motion, especially in the waist and hips, as well as balance and flexibility. He stressed that even if people haven’t been physically active their whole lives, they can start an exercise regimen and improve their strength.

“No matter what age, muscle strength can be gained,” he said.

Herzog also said these classes are not only good for overall health, but for socializing.

“As people get older, sometimes they go out less and don’t get to meet other folks,” he said. “Sometimes people’s lives change drastically, like with the loss of a spouse. They all support each other here.”

For a schedule of classes or more information, visit