Seniors stay fit
Exercise helps strengthen the body and mind
By Kelly O'Connor - The Desert Sun

As a nurse, Rosemarie Berryessa knows the importance of exercising.

But raising two kids she had little extra time. Now, at age 64, she makes time.

"I want to stay healthy and look good. All that doesn't happen unless you do something about it," said the Palm Desert resident.

Berryessa finds motivation at group exercise classes for seniors. She does water aerobics at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage and yoga at Joslyn Senior Center in Palm Desert.

Valley hospitals, gyms and senior centers cater classes to senior citizens, many who have arthritis or other medical conditions associated with aging.

Just because the classes are simplified doesn't mean they're boring. Valley seniors are keeping fit with hula dancing, Pilates and Tai Chi.

Yoga instructor Lakshmi Voelker-Binder uses chairs for her senior class.

"Anybody and everybody can sit down in a chair," she said.

Stretching benefits are the same, the chair just makes the movements easier for those who may have back or hip ailments and are uncomfortable on the floor.

The chair yoga sparked Berryessa's interest. She enjoys yoga, but hurt her knee when she did the poses on the floor.

The group also kept her interest more than the yoga videotapes she bought.

When Berryessa leaves class she says she feels "light and free."

At a recent class, 12 students sat in their chairs with their legs extended resting on another chair in front of them.

"If it doesn't feel good, don't do it," said Voelker-Binder, a Palm Springs resident who teaches classes throughout the valley.

The group reached out to stretch their legs and back. Some rested their hands on the top of the chair, others who were more flexible used the arms of the chair.

"Are you still breathing?" Voelker-Binder asked.

"I hope so," one of the students responded as the rest of the class snickered.

Yoga emphasizes deep, focused breathing. Valley resident Helen Hale, 70, knew this and was apprehensive about trying yoga.

"I always thought it was real serious," she said. But Voelker-Binder uses humor to keep the class energy light and easy.

It's important to keep a positive attitude as you age, she said.

"As their body becomes flexible their minds become more flexible too," Voelker-Binder said.

Yoga and other exercise can ease stress, lower blood pressure and strengthen the body. Many seniors are working muscles they haven't used in a long time.

At the Hula for Health class at Cathedral City Senior Center, students work their hips, back, stomach and inner thigh muscles.

Hula dancing is a "good workout for balance and getting that heart rate up a bit," said instructor Carla Culbertson.

To ease into the movements, students start out doing hand and arm movements while sitting.

As the class continues they do basic hula moves, such as ka'o-- a swaying motion done by shifting the body's weight from side to side.

The oldest student in the hula class is 81 and is "always the first to get out of her seat."

"I kind of base the class on what she does. If she can stand up and do the song, then the others can," Culbertson said.

"We basically get out there and clear the cobwebs out," she said.