Baltimore County offers fitness classes for the elderly to meet rising demand

Seniors are more aware of health needs, experts say

August 23, 1999|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Responding to increased interest from senior citizens, Baltimore County is offering a wide menu of health and fitness classes for older residents, from yoga and aerobics to workshops on sexuality.

In recent years, the elderly have become more aware of their health and the need to exercise and remain fit, say those who work with seniors.

Baltimore County, which has the state's highest senior population at 138,000, is working to meet that demand.

"Historically, the message to older people had been: `Rest, relax, don't tax your weary body,' " said Dr. Michael Harper, a geriatric medicine and gerontology instructor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "I think we have learned from more current research that there really is a `use-it-or-lose-it' phenomenon in older people."

The county's 18 retirement centers offer about 40 exercise classes, including tai chi and aerobics, said Charlie Fischer, director of the Baltimore County Department of Aging.

"I think health is not a trend now," he said. "I think it's a way of life for people who have truly found out that as we grow older, the way to remain active is to have a good fitness program."

At Cockeysville Senior Center, about 10 people regularly attend the weekly strength and fitness training class.

During a recent class, the older adults stretched to ABBA's songs and lifted 3-pound weights to jazz.

"It keeps rigor mortis from setting in," joked Robert Rouleau, 77, of Cockeysville. "Otherwise, you get arthritis pain."

Drew Giordano, the senior fitness specialist who teaches the class, said seniors often become frustrated when they can no longer move easily. Regular exercise allows them to be more independent, he said.

"It improves their ability to do everyday tasks that a lot of us take advantage of, like tying our shoes," he said.

That's why Jean Goldsmith, 72, has been going to the center's class since it started in the spring.

"I live alone, and I know I'm responsible for myself, so I've got to keep in shape," said Goldsmith, of Cockeysville.

To create more health education opportunities, the Department of Aging also plans to offer a workshop in the fall focusing on male sexuality and one on new developments in cancer research.

"I think that we're all concerned about living well after we're older, and we know that exercise and diet are important," said Roberta Nevitt, the department's coordinator of health programming.

"As people are becoming more responsible for their own health care, they're looking for more information."

Many of the county's continuing care retirement communities are responding to older adults' health needs, offering fitness programs through health clubs where residents participate in activities, including yoga and swimming.

About 120 residents at Oak Crest Village in Parkville are members of the community's health club, said Matt Drzik, Oak Crest's wellness manager.

He said the club and pool are among the community's stronger selling points.

Oak Crest resident Cecilia Martelo, 75, benefits from those opportunities. She exercises six days a week, walking on the treadmill or in the pool while she recovers from replacement surgery for both knees.

"When you get [knee surgery], you've got to move or you're never going to walk again," she said.

Though exercising might help older adults feel better and become more independent, Harper said research has not shown whether it will lead to longer lives. However, he said doctors hope exercise will help seniors avoid disabilities later in life.

"What we hope is not so much that they live longer but that they live healthier," he said.

Pub Date: 8/23/99

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