It’s 9:30 a.m. and the auditorium at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center is swinging to the sounds of Elvis Presley.
“I’m in love, I’m all shook up,” Linda Bennett sings along from the stage, demonstrating arm movements that correspond with each word.
Even though the students in her Sit N Be Fit class are in chairs, there’s lots of moving and grooving going on.
Maureen Griffin, 87, of Friendly Valley, has been coming for five months. She used to walk for exercise until a hip injury stopped her.
“This really makes a difference,” Griffin said. “I’m gaining strength and feel terrific.”
Keeping seniors healthy, engaged and mobile is the goal of Sit N Be Fit, which is taught Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the center. The class costs $2 each or $15 for a month.
Bennett, an American Council on Exercise certified specialist, is the instructor, and has been teaching Sit N Be Fit for several decades after seeing a need for seniors in the community.
“There were very few classes like it at the time,” she said. “This works for people with wheelchairs, who walk with a cane or walker, or have just had surgery or are going through physical therapy.”
Sure enough, when Bennett was recovering from foot surgery several years, she attended a Sit N Be Fit class taught by a substitute instructor in order to stay in shape.
“‘All I could do was a half hour,” she said. “It felt so good.”
During her 30-minute classes, Bennett packs in as many real-world movements as possible with a series of exercises like “pick up suitcases” and “chopping wood.”
She also adds in modified dance routines for students to memorize during the class.
“Cross patterning helps to work both sides of the brain,” Bennett said. “There are just so many benefits to chair exercise.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the benefits of exercises for older adults include:
- Helps maintain the ability to live independently and reduces the risk of falling and fracturing bones.
- Reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and of developing high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes.
- Can help reduce blood pressure in some people with hypertension.
- Helps people with chronic, disabling conditions improve their stamina and muscle strength.
- Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression and fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being.
- Helps maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints.
- Helps control joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis.
Unfortunately, the CDC also noted that inactivity increases with age, with one in three men and one in two women over the age of 75 reportedly engaging in no physical activity at all.
Caregiver Norma Tejada does everything in her power to make sure her 82-year old client, Maria Ortega of Valencia, does not fall into that category.
She brings Ortega to class three times a week, occasionally helping her client sit up straight in her wheelchair to follow along to the routine.
“Maria tries to use her walker but doesn’t really have balance. That’s why I bring her,” Tejada said. “This class is motivating. She woke up and was excited to come here.”
Students can modify the exercises and amount of weights they choose to lift, if any, to fit their physical ability.
Fernando Sanchez, 82, of Canyon Country is one of the few men in attendance. He usually comes with his wife, Sylvia, who prefers the class to walking on cold days.
“It keeps me moving. Otherwise, I’d just be sitting at home and watching TV,” he said. “It’s easier for me than walking.”
The class raises their arms and stamps their feet as hard as they can to a rousing routine of “It’s Now or Never” as Bennett cheers them on.
“Oh, you all look so good,” Bennett says. “Just remember, it’s now or never to get into shape.”
Sit N Be Fit is held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 9:30 am at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, 22900 Market Street, Newhall. For more information, call (661) 259-9444 or visit www.myscvcoa.org.