City News

In this exercise class, age is just a number

Chances are Thelma Berst spends more time exercising in one day than most people do in one week. That might not sound too impressive until you learn that she's 80 and as full of zip as someone half her age.

“I do Pilates for an hour, then aerobics, then I go home, take a bath and fall asleep,” she said.

Berst is one of about two dozen older adults taking part in a Lite-and-Lively aerobics class taught at the Simmons YMCA in east Charlotte. All of them, of course, come for the fitness, but an even greater benefit is the fellowship many people their age don't typically get.

Leigh Shipman teaches the aerobics class and is the YMCA's fitness director. She also runs a program called Active Older Adults, which brings senior citizens together a few times a week for exercise and interaction.

“Sometimes as people get older, people start dying that were close to them, and they start to feel more isolated,” she says. “If they can find a group to connect with and start doing things, it helps them emotionally, physically, spiritually, as well as their whole outlook on life.”

The participants clapping and bobbing through this one-hour aerobics class range in age from 45 to 80. Many of them have a story to tell about how exercising has in some instances saved their life, and how being around other people has improved it.

“It keeps me feeling good,” said 69-year-old Pat Miller, who admits that she was a couch potato until she started seriously working out in her 40s.

She once suffered from arthritis but is now pain-free. Exercising regularly also allows her to participate in activities such as hiking with her 14-year-old granddaughter, Katrina Montroy, a varsity cheerleader who worked out with her during the aerobics class.

When not exercising, the seniors attend monthly lunches together, participate in spiritual devotions, go on shopping trips, attend movies or swap stories about their family over coffee or tea.

“We do all kinds of things together,” said Ann Pearce. During Christmas, Pearce, a widow, celebrated with other women in her fitness class to keep from being lonely.

Keeping older adults from becoming lonely is a big reward, Shipman's says. In one instance, a lady who went to the movies with the group hadn't been to one in 10 years because she had no one to go with. Another lady only engaged in meaningful conversation with other people once a week during Sunday church service until she joined Shipman's group and began meeting others her age.

Shipman says seniors have a lot of time to offer as well as many talents. Some she works with sewed dance outfits for a group of underprivileged girls in east Charlotte participating in a dance recital.

“They do want to help and they do want to contribute to their community,” Shipman said.