No pain is gain to exercise instructor

March 21, 1995|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Special to the Sun

Wearing arm splints from her wrists to her elbows, Barbara Kendrick practices what she teaches during the Senior Fun Fitness classes she conducts twice a week.

The exercise program -- held at the Kiwanis-Wallis Recreation FTC Center in Ellicott City -- is targeted for older adults with minor medical problems.

"My goals are to keep seniors flexible, mobile and strong so that they can continue to keep active in their lives," said Mrs. Kendrick, 44, of Elkridge, who has arthritis. "They know that I have joint problems and pain, but I can still move."

Moving is a fact that Mrs. Kendrick doesn't take for granted.

After eight years of teaching various exercise classes for children and adults, she began to have problems getting out of chairs or up from the floor. Her discomfort was even more apparent when teaching fitness classes.

Diagnosed last summer with osteoarthritis -- a common form of arthritis that can cause extreme pain during certain kinds of activity -- Mrs. Kendrick had thought her teaching days were over. Then she noticed an ad last September for a fitness instructor for seniors.

Mrs. Kendrick wasn't sure she physically could handle even a low-impact fitness class designed for older students. But she was hired by Howard County General Hospital and trained by two nurses who specialize in geriatric fitness and run a program at the hospital called Total Fitness. Her class is co-sponsored by the hospital and the county recreation department.

The exercise session is tailored directly to seniors' needs. It includes the necessary components -- warm-up, stretch, aerobic, strength training and relaxation segments -- for a healthy fitness program. But it also fits Mrs. Kendrick's need to avoid movement that includes bouncing and high-impact aerobics.

"The impetus of the class is to keep going as much as you can, and Barbara really has overcome her own medical problem, and it is inspirational," said one of the participants in the class, Mary Cover, 81, of Ellicott City.

Mrs. Kendrick benefits as well. "The class has been uplifting to me because I found that I can still do what I want to do in life despite having an arthritic problem," she said. "It keeps me flexible and mobile."

Though she never before had taught seniors, Mrs. Kendrick is pleased with the positive attitudes and progress of her students.

"When I was teaching students who were in their 20s and 30s, I found that they exercised in order to get specific physical benefits," she said, noting that seniors also derive emotional and social benefits from exercise programs.

For example, Jackie Siegert, a 65-year-old Ellicott City resident who retired recently from her job as an instructional aide at Elkridge Elementary School, says she "needed something" to help her spend her time.

The class has given her other benefits. "I've been watching my weight, and I lost about five pounds," Mrs. Siegert said. "And it's fun."

Another student, Mary Obbink, said she wanted to "get out of the house." Having lost her husband two years ago, the 73-year-old Ellicott City woman said the class has helped her make new friends, in addition to improving her fitness.

During a recent class session, Mrs. Kendrick and her students warmed up by moving in a circle to the country tune, "Achy Breaky Heart," and laughed at the slight confusion that resulted when two circles were formed accidentally.

After the warm-up, students stretched, using chairs for support while standing and then sitting down. Later, students lined up against a wall in order to align their bodies while doing pelvic pushes.

"Squeeze that butt, push out the pelvis," Mrs. Kendrick commanded good-naturedly.

A portion of the class also involves strengthening chest and arm muscles with resistance bands. Mrs. Kendrick used a different kind of elastic -- recommended by an occupational therapist -- that had no resistance.

"There are just a couple [exercises] I can't do, but I will monitor the seniors and make sure they are doing them properly," Mrs. Kendrick said.

Tranquil sounds of "New Age" music then provided a stress-free atmosphere as students sat in a circle with their eyes closed. Stretches and relaxation techniques are part of the class' cool-down segment.

After class, students socialized and talked about the reasons they joined the class.

"I don't want to sit on my duff," said Claire Despres, an "over-62" Glenwood retiree. "I want to get in shape. I don't want to end up in a wheelchair."

Ellen Arnold, a 67-year-old Woodmark resident agreed. "I joined the class to rattle my bones and to socialize," she said. "I'm sore and happy."

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