There are senior-citizen athletes and then there are super seniors. Count the members of the Silver Sneakers who work out at the Durango Sports Club among the latter.
Seven of them – all well beyond retirement age – were stretching, bending and flexing in Chris Grotefend’s strength-training class Thursday. The group, which meets Tuesday and Thursday, normally has at least a dozen participants.
“The exercises improve balance and flexibility but most of all, strength,” Grotefend said. “Strength is important for maintaining bone density, which diminishes as people get older.”
Training equipment for the Silver Sneakers consists of a straight-backed chair, an inflated ball, a pair of dumbbells and a thick rubber band with handles on either end for resistance work. Participants also do free exercises such as balancing on one foot with arms outstretched or tossing the ball from hand to hand to improve coordination.
As Grotefend put them through their paces – virtually nonstop for an hour – grimaces were not uncommon, particularly during the final, measured repetitions of an exercise.
“Older people who exercise are overwhelmingly more dedicated than other age groups because their life depends on it,” said Grotefend, who has been a fitness trainer since 1987. “They want to add life to their years, not necessarily years to their life.”
Elsie Siapno, 82, who joined the group about a year ago, says she feels like a new person.
“I wasn’t feeling well – tired and general malaise – but I’m not as tired now, and I’m trying to eat better,” Siapno said.”
The accrued benefits prevent her from missing a session, Siapno said. “The exercises hit every muscle in the body,” Siapno said. “It’s great.”
The strength class is one of many fitness activities for Cella Weaver, whose working life covered 51 years as an Air Force technician, deep-muscle therapist and school teacher.
In addition to Grotefend’s class, Weaver, 76, takes pilates and works out in the gym on her own five days a week.
“I took yoga for 41 years, so I’m very flexible and healthy,” Weaver said. “I want to go home to God slightly buffed.”
Kris Poer has attended the class for almost a year .“I decided I needed to get involved in something health-related,” Poer said. “I might not have done it, but our health insurance covers it.”
There have been no second thoughts, said Poer, 68. “I feel stronger and can see it in overall endurance,” Poer said. “It’s been very beneficial.”
Grotefend ends the Silver Sneakers class with a breathing/meditative exercise, which he said has become a trend in fitness training.
“It stills the mind to allow you to be aware of ‘now’ and ‘being’ instead of wondering and worrying,” Grotefend said. “It clears the mind.”
The Durango Community Recreation Center does not offer anything quite like Silver Sneakers, but does offer fitness classes and water aerobics for seniors on an ongoing basis, a rec center spokesperson said Friday.