Editor’s Note: On the day that the YMCA of the Chesapeake opens its doors to its new center in Centreville, the Spy wanted to share Ryan Smith’s moving reminder of what the Y is all about.
“Mostly, what I have learned so far about aging, despite the creakiness of one’s bones and cragginess of one’s once-silken skin, is this: Do it. By all means, do it.”
According to a study done by the National Arthritis Data Workgroup, nearly 50% of American citizens over the age of 65 have been diagnosed with arthritis, the most common kind being osteoporosis, a degenerative joint disease that settles in when the tissue that cushions the ends of bones within the joints steadily breaks down over time. Osteoporosis causes pain, stiffness, and swelling for sufferers, often preventing them from being able to perform daily tasks. With stiffness in joints from the fingers and elbows to hips and knees, tasks that used to be simple, from advanced motor function in the hands to walking without support, become challenging, and even worse, sufferers of osteoporosis are more likely to break a bone, creating pain and adversity that they’ll endure for the rest of their lives.
As of this writing, there is no cure for osteoporosis, but studies do show there are ways to slow the effects. Steady exercise has been proven to reduce the rate of bone less and conserve bone tissue. Exercise also helps restore muscle mass and moving balance, but too vigorous of exercise can actually prove to be detrimental, as exercising carelessly could lead to a fall or a fracture.
Enter Enhance Fitness. Enhance Fitness is an evidence based program (EBP) founded by Sound Generations (formerly known as Senior Services) and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc (formerly known as Group Health Cooperative) in the mid-1990’s, and what it aims to do is provide a safe but challenging workout that doesn’t utilize equipment outside of cuff-weights and a chair. Enhance Fitness participants meet for one hour, three times a week, for 16 weeks, and by sticking to a scientifically formulated regimen, they see improvement in physical function, leading to fewer falls, fewer unplanned hospitalizations, and a lower mortality rate.
I stopped by the Y at Washington Street in Easton, Maryland for a session of Enhance Fitness and had the privilege of having a wonderful chat with a few program participants, and with smiles on their faces, had nothing but praise for the program and their instructor, the YMCA of the Chesapeake’s Director of Chronic Disease Programming, Barb Jarrell.
One participant, Suzanne Foster, said, “my story is really simple, I used to be young! And now I’m not, and this class is perfect. A lot of aerobics classes, they say ‘do what you can’ and ‘do things at your speed,’ but the thing is, you don’t know what you can’t do until you can’t do it. Enhance Fitness isn’t like that, it challenges you, but we’re safe and we have fun. Plus there’s great music.”
But it isn’t just arthritis sufferers who have benefited from the program. While most of the people who were willing to be interviewed did have one variation or another, some went because of the ways the class has given them a new outlook on exercise.
“I love coming to the Y, it gives me energy for the rest of the week, and I would come sometimes and do the treadmill, but without a group, it was easy to take days off or go easy,” said Linda, another of the participants. “I look forward to coming to class and seeing my friends. A few years ago, I had hip replacement surgery and I’ve had shoulder issues, but it [Enhance Fitness] has really helped. I’m more limber and I’m proud to say I can touch my toes again!”
Sharon, a retired elementary school principal, is a Triple Negative Breast Cancer survivor who has had to overcome the side-effects of her final chemotherapy treatment. “The chemo caused nerve damage in my feet and lower legs, so I walked with a walker and then a cane for a long time. My balance was, and still is, impacted by the nerve damage. I have been in Enhance Fitness for almost 5 years, and though the chemotherapy induced nerve damage in my feet and lower legs is permanent, I’ve learned balance exercises that help so much. The cardio and strengthening exercises are also great. I have not used a cane in a long time and my knee replacement a year ago was very successful because of the strengthening exercises! We have an excellent instructor and group of participants who make our class a fun place to be!”
One of the major philosophies of the Y’s on the Eastern Shore is that each branch be “more than just a gym.” While the weight rooms, pools, and exercise classes serve thousands of Marylanders every day, the real heartbeat of the association is the communities that thrive within it. On the surface, Enhance Fitness is yet another low-impact, steady and safe group exercise class for senior citizens, but just beneath, it’s so much more.
On top of helping participants live longer, healthier, more active lives, it also fosters a community where people care about each other and push one another to try their best. One participant, who chose not to be interviewed, is 94 years old, and still comes to every class, every three days, every week. It’s a program that helps one person get out of the house, another out of their comfort zone, and another back on their feet. There’s a reason that participants keep coming back, session after session, and it’s not just Barb’s excellent playlist.
To learn more about the Y’s Enhanced Fitness program, contact Wendy Palmer at 410-822-0566
Ryan Smith is a member of the YMCA of the Chesapeake Staff.