Seniors surpass age in fitness test

Dozens turn out for county Office on Aging's exercises to measure stamina

May 25, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

At 91, Jane Herrick walks at least five miles a day - up and down hills near her Bel Air home - and often helps cook meals at McFaul Senior Center.

Jarrettsville residents John and Anna Flatley, 89 and 92, make time to volunteer and work out at the center on MacPhail Road.

Tom Biggerman, 73, coaches recreational sports in his Bel Air community, does aerobics and line dancing at the same center and makes deliveries for Meals on Wheels.

These Harford residents were among the dozens of seniors who aced a physical fitness test that the county's Office on Aging is offering to the over-59 set.

Herrick, with a pair of stylish sunglasses clasped to the top of her head, glided through all three 30-second exercises. She scored at the top of the charts for her age group and earned "bravos" from those waiting in line.

"My mother always made us walk when we were children, and it has just carried over with me," she said. "If I don't walk five or six miles a day, I don't feel right. That's how I stay in shape."

The three exercises, devised by researchers at California State University, match stamina with age to determine fitness. Monitors timed the participants and referred to charts to let them know how well they had performed.

"It's just another motivational program to encourage seniors to stay healthy and be active," said Betty Karukas, administrative assistant with the Office on Aging, who timed volunteers during the last and most strenuous exercise - sitting and standing repeatedly with arms crossed on the chest. "I think they got bored with walking with a pedometer, so we decided to try something a little different."

Enthusiasm, encouragement and lively banter prevailed among those waiting for the test.

"Be gentle with us," said Pat Blackstock, 72, of Fallston, hoping to assess her agility and capability. "I think I am fit, but you never know."

She felt certain that she would pale in comparison to Cooky Hastings, 67, who wanted to lift the men's 8-pound weights instead of the women's 5-pounders. Hastings had just finished painting and papering her Bel Air home and had already taken an exercise class the day of the test. She did the walk in four seconds, the best time of the group, and scored "off the charts" on the other two parts.

"Exercise gets the endorphins going and keeps me from getting depressed," she said.

Blackstock may not be as energetic as her friend, but she participates in aerobics and several other activities at the center, which opened in 2001, and finds the atmosphere inviting and friendly.

"They do wonderful things here," she said. "There is always someone to talk to, a class going on or you can sit by the fire and read a good book. I have made a lot of good friends here."

She finished the first exercise, a walk around a cone, in 5.5 seconds and beat her own time by a half-second on her follow-up walk. She opted for a 5-pound weight and had no trouble with the sit-ups.

"I guess I am in super shape, even with bad knees," she said. "I feel like I could climb the ropes in this gym."

The monitor for the walking test often reminded enthusiastic participants not to run. But many had places to go and were eager to move on.

"Let's get going, so I can get back to painting class," said Marie Stevenson, 84, of Bel Air. "I am just taking the test for the fun of it."

And, for the insulated lunch bag with a cell phone pocket, a gift from Medi-CareFirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, the event sponsor.

Stevenson wished those waiting in line good luck as she headed off to her class. When she encountered a few hesitant prospects in the hall, she encouraged them to go through the test.

The second part of the test involved curling a weight with one arm across the chest. An arm badly bruised during a landscaping accident at his home did not deter Biggerman, who managed a chart-topping 23 curls.

"Even with a bum arm, I tested above average," Biggerman said.

He finished the trial with 14 sit-ups, exceptional for his age group, according to the test chart.

"It is all about determination, perseverance and anticipation," he said. "I guess these tests mean I will be here for a good while longer."

Harford's seniors can take advantage of walking, aerobic and dancing programs as well as exercise equipment at area centers. The daily activities help keep them healthy physically and mentally, many seniors said.

Emma Jean McDermott, 64, of Bel Air takes an exercise class at McFaul three times a week. Scoring well above average on all three tests was a testament to her routine, she said.

"We should always strive for fitness, no matter what age," McDermott said.

Mary Busch, 64, of Bel Air, uses the center's fitness equipment several times each week and makes certain she walks several miles a day.

"You want to keep the meds away as long as you can," she said. "You just don't want to slack off."

The Flatleys left the gym after scoring high and headed for the exercise room.

"You have to keep doing," Anna Flatley said.

"I am just glad I passed," her husband said. "Those sit-ups were the hardest, but I did nine."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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