Nov 12

Seniors Stay Active

by Dillon Kato

With classes, programs and services all aimed at seniors, there are more ways than ever for them to stay active as they age.

The Billings YMCA offers classes targeted at older adults three times a week. They include working with an instructor on balance and muscular strength, as well as teaching “chair Pilates” designed especially for older people.

“It provides flexibility and posture without having to feel like they have to continually modify. One thing we hear quite a bit is they get discouraged in other classes when they have to modify and modify to make it work,” said Kassia Lyman, health and wellness director of the Billings YMCA.

Another focus of the courses is in stabilization, especially as it pertains to making sure people are comfortable walking around once the winters comes.

“We teach them to control those circumstances a little bit more, be able to build up their balance and their muscular strength so they can prevent those falls as well,” she said.

In chair Pilates, an instructor teaches the class how to use light dumbbells to do a series of exercises where the participant either stays seated in a chair or holding onto it, promoting stability. These classes also provide activities the person can do in their own homes.

Good posture is also one of the important parts for older people to think about, Lyman said.

“As we get older, we tend to hunch forward. We work to strengthen the back, stretch out the chest, and give them tips to do the same thing at home,” she said.

An activity at the YMCA that’s taken off in popularity is pickleball, a sport that plays similar to tennis on a smaller course using wooden paddles. Lyman said it has become the newest fad, and a great sport that generations of a family can play together.

“It’s cool to see, all of them just getting out there to play together, and everyone can have fun and do something as a family,” she said.

The New Directions Wellness Center, part of the University of Montana’s physical therapy program deals with seniors who have mobility issues, and helps them to regain their motion. The issues of patients
program coordinator Molly Blair sees come through the doors ranges from stroke to paralysis and arthritis. New Directions is designed to specifically work with people with those disabilities.

“Mainly, it’s just folks who used to be active wanting to continue to stay active,” Blair said.

She said these people have to start slowly on an exercise program, and that for them the goal is maintaining the motion they still have, not trying to turn them into prime athletes.

“We do a lot of stuff with a new stair stepper machine, which has low impact on the joints,” she said.

Adaptations can be made with people who have issues like paralysis, using straps for hands and legs. Balance issues are also very important, Blair said, as well as stretching activities to promote a broad range of motion. The center provides handcycles for people who can’t ride upright, and Blair said no matter what a person wants to do, there’s a way to adapt for them.

“One guy came in with Parkinson’s, he wanted to get back into boxing. So we figured out a way to get gloves in there and spar with him as part of the exercise,” she said.

There are lots of opportunities in Missoula for older people to stay active. Blair said apart from outdoor recreation, there are plenty of indoor athletic facilities, in addition to classes aimed specifically for older people.

One of the ones she suggested are taking a fall prevention class, especially with the slippery conditions of winter approaching.

Blair, who is specially trained in arthritis patients, said she teaches senior classes in town as well. When older people have flare ups in arthritis, Blair said it is important that they keep moving and exercising, even when they don’t want to.

“With arthritis, it’s about lower impact, knowing your limits, watch when you’re doing too much,” she said.

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