I accidently joined a gym. I was really just looking for a yoga class, but instead of shopping for a yoga studio per se, I explored fitness centers that offer yoga. The one I found offered me a free membership – more about that later – which I gladly accepted! For months, I went to the gym, took the 55-minute yoga class, then headed home. It took until my favorite yoga teacher said she was subbing for instructors in the next two scheduled classes – Body Works Plus Abs and Silver Sneakers – for me to pay attention to the fact that other classes were available. Thus, I started to explore the many benefits of group fitness.
An article in The New York Times explains why anyone over fifty might want to follow in my footsteps.
The story was called, “Can You Pass the 10-second Balance Test?” Evidently, it was one of the most shared articles the paper published in 2022. It tells of a Brazilian study of 1700 older adults that found 20% of participants (that’s one in five) could not balance on one leg for 10 seconds or more. Going on to tell us that balance quickly diminishes in our fifties and that falls are the second leading cause of injury deaths worldwide, balance becomes important for longevity. The good news is that almost any type of exercise can help since stronger muscles in your legs, glutes, feet, and core all impact balance.
Though improved longevity is worth any price, readers who are seniors might be eligible for free gym memberships thanks to their Medicare supplemental health insurance. As it turns out, mine did not offer such a program, but I was able to change insurance companies in order to have that perk. Oddly, my new insurance is less expensive than my old. More good news, the new company has arrangements with many local gyms. Choosing one within the network, my annual membership is completely free of charge.
I have now taken the three classes I mentioned – Body Works Plus Abs, Silver Sneakers, and Yoga. All three have balance components. Here are descriptions of the classes followed by a sample balance exercise from each. I will also provide YouTube links so you can see instructors doing the exercise.
Body Works Plus Abs:
Body position – You are standing for half the class, on a mat for the rest.
Props – You need a yoga mat and light weight dumbbells that will feel heavy thanks to many repetitions. (My class has 2 ½ pound, 5 pound, and 7 ½ pound weights from which to choose.)
Music – Contemporary rock songs such as “Uptown Funk”
Number of Steps in a 55-minute class (per my fitness tracker) – 2075
Silver Sneakers (classes designed for senior citizens):
Body position – You are standing next to a chair (for support) for half the class and sitting on the chair for the rest of the class
Props – You need a chair, a rubber ball, stretch bands, and light weight dumbbells. (My class has all this equipment including 2 ½ pound and 5 pound weights from which to choose.)
Music – Oldies songs that would win the American Bandstand accolade: “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”
Number of Steps in a 55-minute class (per my fitness tracker) – 1891
Body position – on a mat the entire time, either standing, sitting, or lying down while you twist and turn on one limb or more.
Props – You need a yoga mat. Blocks – made of foam, cork, rubber, etc. – are optional. Blocks are an “extension of the arms” and shorten the distance between you and the floor.
Music – New age-y
Number of Steps in a 55-minute class (per my fitness tracker) – 152
A sample balance exercise from each class:
Body Works Plus Abs: Stand with both feet on the ground and arms stretched up overhead. Raise your left knee waist-high while bringing both hands down to tap the knee. Bring your left leg down as your arms go back up. Repeat with right leg. Repeat multiple times to the beat of the music.
Silver Sneakers: Stand up. Hold onto the back of your chair if necessary. Lift your left foot off the ground for a count of ten. Put it down. Lift your right foot off the ground for a count of ten, then put it down. Touch your left heel to your right toes and balance like that for a count of ten. Repeat with right heel to left toes. Kick your left leg out to the side. Return it to the ground. Repeat with your right leg. Lift left knee waist-high and hold for a count of ten. Put it down. Repeat with your right leg. You will repeat these maneuvers several times, all to the beat of the music.
Yoga: Standing on your right foot, raise your left knee up, grab that knee with both hands and press it to your chest. If you can, release your knee and straighten the left leg out so that it is parallel to the ground. Repeat with your other foot and leg.
Uh-oh! What to do if none of these classes/exercises sound appealing?
Gyms offer a plethora of group fitness classes, certainly one will sound enjoyable. The gym I attend has these additional classes:
- Cycle Zone
- Step Sculpt
- Power Circuit
- Boot Camp Conditioning
- Cardio Jam
- Hip Hop
- Kickbox Cardio
All of these classes strengthen muscles and therefore improve balance.
Since The New York Times article tells us that the inability to pass the balance test is associated with a twofold risk of death from any cause within ten years and since it tells us that it is never too late to start working on balance, picking a palatable class becomes a perfect plan. I encourage everyone to do so.
Below are links to YouTube videos from each class, so you can sample them at home:
Some other fitness topics I have explored:
- I have worked out with a personal trainer for over a dozen years and continue to do so weekly! Read about him here: Odd Life Lessons from the Gym.
- I have walked five days a week for over thirty years. Read about it here: Walking for Good Health – How to Create the Habit.
- My new yoga practice is wonderful. Read about it here: Don’t Run Screaming from the Room.