Seniors stay active through exercise classes

Union photo by Andy Hallman

Marjorie Marine follows along to an arm exercise at SunnyBrook Assisted Living in Fairfield.
Union photo by Andy Hallman Marjorie Marine follows along to an arm exercise at SunnyBrook Assisted Living in Fairfield.

A sedentary lifestyle is not healthy, especially for the elderly. Seniors who work their muscles on a regular basis will find that they have greater mobility and a reduced risk of falling.

A couple of nursing homes in Fairfield make a special effort to keep their residents active. Courtney Titus, activities director at Parkview Care Center, said her residents play a game that involves a beach ball she has written questions on. The residents sit in a circle and toss the beach ball to each other. When they catch the ball, they have to answer the question that’s facing them on the ball.

Parkview residents also play balloon volleyball in the special care unit. They have a group exercise every Monday, Wednesday and Friday where they bend over to touch their toes, reach side to side, put their arms over their head, etc. The exercises are normally done indoors, but if the weather is nice, the group will do them under the awning outside the building.

“The residents really enjoy these exercises,” Titus said.

SunnyBrook Assisted Living on the west side of Fairfield has an exercise class that meets every day. The class is normally led by SunnyBrook lifestyle director Deborah Sirdoreus. Sirdoreus owned a fitness club behind Walmart for five years, and has a total of 15 years of experience in fitness instruction.

Sirdoreus leads a group of 10-20 people in a series of exercises, all of which can be done from a chair. However, that doesn’t mean they’re easy. Sirdoreus tries to work every part of the body, from the neck to the back to the shoulders to the legs. She has them stretch their fingers, focusing on their pinkies and their thumbs. She leads the group in an exercise that works their wrist. She has them stretch the tendons and ligaments around the wrist, usually in four sets with eight repetitions each. She said this is an important exercise because if a resident falls, they will likely try to brace their fall with their hand. If their wrist is not strong, they are liable to hurt it.

Though it seems like being in a seated position would limit the kind of exercises a person can do to just their arms, Sirdoreus finds a way to incorporate leg exercises. She has the group stretch their legs out and hold that position for eight seconds. Sometimes they’ll point their toes away from their body, and other times point them back toward the body, and each of those exercises works a different group of muscles in the leg.

The exercises are more than just stretches, too. Some of them are very vigorous. For instance, in one exercise, the residents swing their left leg under their right leg, and then reverse the position by swinging their right leg under their left in rapid succession. By the end of the four sets, even a younger journalist who’s been following along has worked up a sweat.

Sirdoreus said exercising leg muscles is so important because without strong legs, a person will soon be wheelchair bound. She said a lot of the residents are aware of the importance of remaining active, and will walk the hallways or walk outside for additional exercise in between classes.

One of the most challenging exercises is not the fastest exercise but actually one of the slowest. It involves slowly moving one knee away from the other, which works the hip. Sirdoreus said getting the form just right is a little tricky because some residents are tempted to rotate their knees instead of moving their legs at the hip joint.

“I want them to feel a little strain in their muscles when they do these exercises,” Sirdoreus said.

Sirdoreus said she wants to push the residents to improve, and yet she knows their limitations. Some residents have bad shoulders, and they simply can’t do some of the arm stretches. At times, certain members of the class will comment on each other’s form, trying to correct it if they think it’s being done wrongly. Sirdoreus said she has to remind the group that not everyone is as flexible as everyone else.

“I never want to embarrass them,” she said. “I don’t want to take away their dignity.”

Sirdoreus leads the class five days a week, and then occasionally on the weekends. When she’s not there, another staff member will lead the class, or the residents will follow along to the exercises on a DVD. Sirdoreus said the residents much prefer to have an in-person instructor lead the class instead of the television.

Don Pacha has been a resident at SunnyBrook for the past two years. He is a regular attendee of Sirdoreus’s exercise class.

“It keeps me in shape a little bit,” he said. “It exercises our shoulders, legs, wrist and so on. It’s a good way to keep you limbered up with what you’ve got.”

Pacha’s sister, Mary Catherine Adam, is also a resident of SunnyBrook. She’s been a resident for six weeks, and she likes attending the exercise classes with her brother.

“I think it’s good for us to keep limbered up. I want to keep walking till I drop,” she said. “I used to walk a lot, but I don’t get that walking in as much now.”

Adam said most of the exercises don’t hurt too much, though she notices the strain most of all when she stretches her back or her hips.

In addition to the exercise class, SunnyBrook residents stay active by participating in competitions against other nursing homes. For instance, they have competed against SunnyBrook in Mt. Pleasant in corn hole, also known as bean bags. They have competed in Wii bowling against Prairie Hills in Ottumwa.