A while back I wrote about how arthritis was messing with my life. I complained about sore feet and sore hands. If I had written the post at 2:00AM I might have described sore feet, sore hands, sore back, sore hips, and a sore soul. Despite all of that, I feel okay most of the time. But I am not stupid and know that I need to make lifestyle changes to help reduce joint pain.
As someone who has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 41 years, I have gotten used to the idea that more than doctors and pills, I am the one in charge of my health. I make the conscious decision to monitor my blood sugar, eat reasonably well, and optimize my insulin regimen. But as I look at the last 4 decades, I strongly believe that I am healthy today because of exercise: tennis, golf, hiking, dog walking, step classes. Unfortunately I am finding that arthritis demands that I no longer hike 12 miles in the Arizona mountains or walk 6 miles on my hilly Minnesota golf course. Weight lifting benefits my biceps but my hands suffer. Planks and push-ups strengthen my core, but my elbows and shoulders rebel. Almost everything bothers my feet.
One of the benefits of my Medicare supplement plan is Silver & Fit where I can join a health club for free. In 2017 I selected the nearby Lifetime Fitness and enjoyed cardio, strength, and cycling classes. Unfortunately this spring I began to realize that despite trying to modify exercises to my capabilities, these classes were too taxing on my joints.
Thanks to a local diabetes friend, I was persuaded to check out the Southdale YMCA. She has belonged there for years and calls it her “home away from home.” She mailed me a copy of the long list of fitness and pool classes, some designed for seniors and others targeted for exercisers of various ages and fitness levels. After being faced with the possibility of both foot and hand surgery, I determined that it was time to check out the Y.
I stopped by one rainy morning in May and was immediately welcomed and taken on a tour. With little hesitation I joined on the spot. Fate determined that my free orientation session was with a trainer who happens to have a sister with Type 1 diabetes! We talked about exercise and low blood sugar and she showed me the stash of glucose tabs in the file cabinet at the fitness desk.
The senior exercise classes are organized under an umbrella of ForeverWell. There are three activity tiers: Just Getting Started, Already Active, and Exercising Regularly. Aging, illness, and surgery can shift you from one category to another and the boundaries are fluid. I am a good fit for “Exercising Regularly” classes and faithfully attend ForeverWell Yoga and occasionally ForeverWell Strength. I also participate in several cycling classes each week.
ForeverWell Yoga: Imagine a studio filled with 75 people over the age of “don’t ask-don’t tell” and many well into their 70’s and maybe 80’s. You need to arrive early to get a spot although no one is ever turned away. The instructor uses kindergarten teacher skills to quiet the noisy group to get started at 8:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and reminds us to take care of injuries and sore joints. A long warm-up is followed by instruction in poses that increase strength, flexibility, balance, and mental health. There is something really inspiring about seeing a roomful of seniors in child’s pose or warrior two. I plan my life around never missing this class and I always leave feeling better than when I arrived.
ForeverWell Strength: This class is mostly attended by women with an occasional guy hanging out in the back row. The formula is a step warm-up, strength work with weights and an elastic band, various exercises with a small ball, and then a cool down. None of it is hugely difficult, but the always-moving and always-smiling instructor keeps us on the go and I get a good workout. When I attend this class, it means that Abby the Black Lab misses her morning walk with friends at the dog park. My health versus the dog’s happiness. It’s a tough choice except on rainy days.
Studio Cycle: Studio cycling gives me an intense cardio workout without the pounding of running, hiking, and step classes. The bikes are a tech wonder where I enter data about myself and get a personal fitness number to measure whether I am in the target zone of white (take a nap), blue, green, yellow, or red (Ferrari). Each of the many different instructors has pushed me to test my limits while pedaling and sweating to great music playlists.
Other Classes: The Y class schedule is amazing with 12 to 30+ classes offered daily and I am in no danger of running out of things to try. Although I lack motivation for individual workouts, many people lift weights, use fitness machines, swim laps and do all sorts of things apart from organized classes.
Of course the YMCA is not only for seniors. I enjoy the age, race, and fitness diversity of the membership and have been happy to see kids everywhere this summer. I see lots of uber-fit young adults and fondly remember those days.
But the magic of the Southdale Y for me is that it embraces seniors. It is a social club with coffee and newspapers in the lobby. The prequel to yoga class is a noisy affair where new and old friends chat and laugh. The fitness area revolves around one longtime Y member who spends his mornings on a rowing machine and attracts a steady stream of chitchatting visitors. The friendliness is contagious and on my second visit to a noontime water aerobics class, I was invited to join the group that goes out to lunch once a month. The ForeverWell Newsletter mentions things like bingo, hearing screenings, and balance classes—things that you expect to see at a senior center. But it also offers an Al and Alma’s Lake Minnetonka Cruise, a trip to Winona, and an invitation to help landscape the exterior of the building.
This talk of senior fitness and community is a bit schmalzy but I know that my mother’s senior years were lonely. She would have been happier and healthier with daily interactions with other people. I remember when my in-laws moved into an assisted living facility and my father-in-law felt alienated because the residents looked so old. Of course they were no older than he was, but he didn’t see that he was “them.” What I love about the YMCA is that I look at “them” and am comfortable being “them.” I am in the early years of being a senior, but I see respect for every person of every age and every level of health and fitness. I don’t see condescension towards older people or actually towards any people. Everyone is welcomed and appreciated at the Southdale YMCA and I am glad to be part of the Y community.
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