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SIlver Threads: Finally, a workout that fits this senior


Over the years I’ve joined many an exercise class and failed to stay the course, attending only one, two or at the most three sessions before bailing.

Except for the time when I was in my mid-40s and had bulged out of my accustomed dress size. I did stick with this regimen until I’d gotten things back together, so to speak.

Physical exertion has been something I’ve mostly avoided, never understanding how some folks just love flapping their arms and legs around and running as though they were in junior high, which is the last time I remember ever breaking into a sweat. Give me a glass or two of good pinot grigio and I’ll show you a “high” that’s worth climbing up to.

But the other day, faced with — and looking forward to! — a May journey across the Pacific and fearing that I might stumble along the airport concourse on the first leg and/or be unable to rise from my seat at the final destination, I decided to sign up for yet another exercise class. This one is so different that I’m pretty sure to have a better chance of sticking it out. For starters, you aren’t even on your feet for more than 10 of the 45 minutes of each session. It’s not exactly armchair exercise; it’s a folding chair workout.

Your upper body — shoulders and arms — is strengthened with the use of weights and those thingys that have hand grips on each end of a flexible, stretchy rubber cord. Your legs are exercised from a sitting position also, and then you do finally stand up to march, “run” and kick.

The class is held three times a week at the new YMCA in Federal City, and the age range of my classmates is from 61 to 92, with one tiny woman in a wheelchair. I got a kick out of the whole setup on my first day, when our nimble little 63-year-old instructor was counseling those in the crowd planning on making an all-day Y field trip to UNO the next week.

“Remember to take your medications along.” she advised. On Monday, my new 92-year-old friend was missing, so I guess she went on the trip, too.

During this second workout at the Y, I knew that a column about the class was a’borning, when our leader asked us to tell her how we were feeling, after a lot of stretching and pulling, “on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most uncomfortable.” “Eleven!” shouted out a hefty old man in the front.

My major problem wasn’t fatigue or aches and pains, it’s poor coordination. I never could stay in step with others, couldn‘t dance well or play sports. I can’t seem to move my right leg and my left arm at the same time and then switch to my left leg and my right arm. While others are pointing and then flexing their feet, I’m flexing and pointing. But guess what? In this class nobody cares. And maybe they didn’t in any of the classes I’ve abandoned. I’d have been a stand-out failure in step aerobics though.

I’ll mention one final thing that makes these exercise sessions different. It surprised me on my first day. Our leader announced that one of the participants had died since the group had last met. He was 92.

The workouts, his wife told our leader, had probably helped keep him going for as long as he did.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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