Staying fit the senior way

By: Maria Allard | Warren Weekly | Published October 26, 2016

 Several community recreation centers have exercise programs for senior citizens. Here, Bob Pietresziewski and Helen Bentley, both of Roseville, do floor exercises. The gym also is open to walkers.

Several community recreation centers have exercise programs for senior citizens. Here, Bob Pietresziewski and Helen Bentley, both of Roseville, do floor exercises. The gym also is open to walkers.

File photo by Deb Jacques

METRO DETROIT — Every morning at 6:30 a.m. during the week, a group of Warren senior citizens meets at the Fitzgerald High School indoor track in Warren.

Their mission is to stay as fit as possible and enjoy each other’s company.

They casually call themselves “The Fitz Walkers,” and they walk the indoor track for about an hour, warding off pounds, weight issues, health concerns and other ailments that can surface as people age. 

Eight laps around the indoor track is 1 mile. Depending on how fast they move, most of the members walk an average of 3-5 miles each morning. They say they have noticed how much healthier they feel because of the daily exercise. 

Warren resident Paulette Callaway, 64, for instance, has lost 146 pounds between her morning strolls and following the Weight Watchers plan. 

“I just feel better,” said Callaway, who often speed walks. “I’m not out of breath all the time. We appreciate Fitzgerald having this. We really thank them for opening their doors and having the facility.”

On the morning of Oct. 19, Callaway, Hazel Park resident Bill Godsey, and Warren residents Marie Oliver, Audrey Brys, Shirley Koebbe, Deborah Kusak, Richard D’Augustino, Bob Szymanski, Annie Covert and Phyllis Makuch met up for laps. Other group members were missing because they were out of town.

Oliver, 65, keeps her weight down with her daily discipline of walking; she also does Zumba to stay fit. The group has noticed so many positive changes by staying active. 

“When you walk, you help your immune system so you don’t get colds,” D’Augustino, 71, said. “You’re kicking out things to make sure your immune system is strong.”

Some of the gentlemen in the group, like 81-year-old Godsey, carry 6-pound weights when walking to work on their upper-body strength. They often walk in pairs or small groups.

“You can change and walk around with other people,” Koebbe, 80, said.

Brys, 64, found out about the walking group after attending the high school’s 40-year reunion.

“I wanted to exercise and do something indoors,” she said. 

Szymanski, 77, likes to walk outside during the warmer months and heads to FHS when the weather begins to cool down. Since school is closed on the weekend, the group usually heads to Oakland Mall in Troy to walk. 

Dr. Mirza Beg, division head of geriatric medicine at Henry Ford Health System, advises senior citizens to check with their physicians before starting an exercise program, especially if they have medical problems and have been sedentary.

“The doctor can explain to them what kind of exercise would be appropriate,” Beg said. “Exercise and eating healthy is the best medicine at this age. Research shows there are so many benefits of exercising. It aids in mental health too. There is a release of certain chemicals in the brain. It helps with depression. (People) start feeling better.”

Beg said there are three types of exercises that senior citizens should do to stay active and physically fit: cardio, resistance and stretching.

“There should be a combination of all three,” he said. “Cardiovascular is like running, walking, elliptical. They increase your heart rate. Resistance is important to maintain muscle mass. As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass. That can start at (age) 35. There is a constant breakdown in the body as you age. To retain muscle mass, you need to do resistance exercises.”

That includes lifting small weights, a water bottle or a bean bag.

“I don’t mean they need to be body builders,” said Beg, who suggested that seniors have a session with a physical therapist to determine the best workout.

Stretching, he said, helps to minimize injuries and trauma to the muscles and joints. He said an exercise routine also will control blood sugar and lower blood pressure. Beg added that it’s also an outlet for socializing. The Fitz Walkers are a prime example of that.

“This is such a wonderful group of people,” Kusak said. “We’re all so close.”

“We all have something in common,” D’Augustino said.  

While Oliver, Callaway and Brys knew one another previously — they all graduated from FHS in 1970 — the other strollers met for the first time at the indoor track. The group welcomes new walkers to join them at any time. FHS is located at 23200 Ryan Road in Warren.

Last month, the National Institute on Aging celebrated Go4Life Month to call attention to the benefits of exercise and physical activity for older people. The theme of Go4Life Month 2016 was “#Fit4Function,” and it was designed to help older adults think about the practical benefits of exercise, like being able to drive, carry groceries into the house, do yard work and walk the dog.

“Research has shown that it’s never too late for exercise to have a positive effect on the health of older people,” said Chhanda Dutta, Ph.D., the NIA’s Go4Life scientific coordinator. “A number of studies have shown that with regular exercise and physical activity, older people are more likely to remain independent and continue to participate in the activities they enjoy. Regular physical activity also has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, obesity, stroke, diabetes and other chronic conditions.”

Go4Life is the national exercise and physical activity campaign for people 50 and older from the NIA, part of the National Institutes of Health. The Go4Life Month 2016 campaign sought to empower older adults to become more physically active by providing resources through an interactive website at Go4Life.nia.nih.gov. Representatives also worked with local and national partners to engage older adults in their own communities.

Go4Life’s information and motivational tools help older adults increase their physical activity. The website includes sample exercises, success stories and free materials for the growing numbers of baby boomers — and their parents — to get ready, start exercising and keep going.