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Young at heart: With the help of a free program, area seniors are putting a focus on fitness

Big band music from the 1940s pours out of a nearby stereo as nearly two dozen seniors file into the Jonesborough senior center on a cold, blustery Wednesday morning.
The seniors each grab a chair and form a half circle around Robin Beals, a fitness instructor who will spend the next hour leading an exercise class tailor-made for older folks.
“The class focuses on exercises that will help them with their daily living activities,” explains Brenda Hussey, an account manager for the SilverSneakers Fitness Program. “A lot of it is done while they are sitting in a chair, like building muscular strength and bone mass, working on range of movement and hand-eye coordination.”
Using resistance bands and exercise balls, the class allows seniors to participate at their own comfort level.
“I come to the class to keep my joints operating so I can get around,” says Jean Soergel, a resident of Washington County who has been taking the class for about four years. “I had a very bad ankle injury and it wasn’t until I got back into this exercise class that I saw a difference. Now, I’m walking without a cane.”
The SilverSneakers Fitness Program has been offering senior exercise classes since the early 1990s. Today, more than 10,000 sites for the program exist across the United States and Puerto Rico, including 70 in Tennessee.
“It’s not always in a gym, either,” Hussey says. “Sometimes we’re in churches. Sometimes we’re in senior centers. We want them to feel comfortable and be able to get to the class.”
Paid for through Medicare programs, the SilverSneakers Fitness class is free to seniors in the area.
“Most seniors are on a pretty tight budget,” Hussey said. “When they’ve already got to decided between medication and food some months, they’re certainly not going to be able to afford a gym membership.”
Hussey says she has seen some amazing results in seniors who stick with the fitness regimen.
“I saw one woman who did the class and no longer needed a walker,” she says. “You also see people who are able to come off their medications sometimes, too, because of the class.”
For 92-year-old Gwendolyn Moorehouse, the class has been a real life saver.
“I’ve been doing it for balance because I was falling a lot,” explains Moorehouse, who lives in the historic district of Jonesborough and started taking the class 10 months ago. “Now I don’t ever fall, really. And it’s all because of taking this class.”
In addition to the physical benefits, Hussey says the program also provides seniors with other
“It’s not just exercise,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for them to get out of the house and socialize. They get to be good friends and really, why they want to come is to see their friends.”
Seniors interested in taking the SilverSneakers fitness class at the Jonesborough Senior Center can attend on Mondays or Wednesdays at 9 a.m. For more information about the program, contact the senior center at 753-1075.