Not just for the young

Christine Hennebury
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Seniors' class makes fitness accessible to all

Seniors follow Lisa Sheppard's lead during a fitness session at the Reid Centre in Mount Pearl. — Photo by Christine Hennebury/Special to The Telegram

If you're looking for exercise inspiration this year, the seniors in Lisa Sheppard's classes, who range in age from 55-82, are demonstrating that fitness has no age limit.

Sheppard, a group fitness instructor employed by the Seniors Independence Group in Mount Pearl, says no one is too old to get more fit. Her students, with guidance from their doctors, have found that increasing their fitness has helped with pre-existing conditions, with reducing pain and increasing strength.

Sheppard says her students are inspiring.

"You can be fit at any age. You don't have to give up. You can do weights, you can do cardio, you can improve flexibility."

Visitors to the class are surprised at the seniors' fitness level, and they quickly abandon any stereotypical ideas about seniors' exercise programs.

"People think we're a bunch of wimps," says participant Marie Power. "But a couple of years ago, we had a class here from a school, doing phys ed. Halfway through the class they were conking out, they couldn't do it. They hadn't realized how much exercise was involved."

Sheppard doesn't insult her students by making it easy for them either.

"I don't make things easier. I make you do options, different ways of doing things at your fitness level. Anyone could come in off the street and it would be just as hard."

Marilyn Daly says, "I joined this group because I didn't want to have to try to keep up with a bunch of really young kids. First day that I walked in, I thought maybe I'm in the wrong place. Some are way ahead of me, some are here in their 80s."

Sheppard's students find the class to be a great mix of socializing and exercise, gaining energy and having fun in good company.

"They're here to work out, they're here to have a good time and that's what's important. There's no point in working out in a group fitness situation unless you are having fun."

Sheila Dooley has found a lot of benefits beyond exercise.

"It gives you a reason to get up in the morning. You can socialize with the others in the group and when you do the class, you feel you can take on the world. "

Rhona Hynes says that Sheppard herself is one of the main reasons that people enjoy the classes so much.

"Lisa is wonderful. She lets everyone do it at their own level. If you want to go fast, go fast. If you want to go slow, go slow. She doesn't push you."

Hynes' enthusiasm for the class has carried over into her enthusiasm for life in general.

"I'm going to live to be 90 or 100 now," she says.

Sheppard gets participants' feedback, answers questions and listens to comments to ensure people get the most out of the classes.

One of the things she likes best is that the seniors aren't set in their ways.

"They're up for anything. They're willing to try new things even though there may be a little bit of static. For Halloween a couple of years ago, we learned the 'Thriller' dance. In the summer, we did relay races in the pool. They are up for fun. They're smiling. They're happy to be here and that makes me happy to be here."

Ed Slaney, who had open heart surgery, had exercise prescribed for him by his doctor. He was always active and involved in sports and he finds the classes enjoyable, especially the shallow water fitness.

He likes the regular routine of exercise and the variety, but he does have one problem with the class.

"There are not enough men," he says. "Lots of men drop off their wives and pick them up. That doesn't help their health."

While fitness is important in itself, Sheppard's class is not about fitness for its own sake; it's about being able to go through daily life with more ease.

"If you don't have strength to go to the grocery store, to lift your bag of groceries, that's sad," Sheppard says.

"All of the exercises I do, I try to make sure they are relatable to real life. If you're doing a bicep curl, that might not seem totally relatable, but if you're lifting a load of laundry, that's using your biceps. By doing that and making sure their biceps stay strong, for example, they are able to do everyday activities."

To anyone considering joining, but feeling a little nervous about it, Sheppard advises, "Just try a class. We offer three different class types. Hopefully, one of them will work for them. Hopefully, they will enjoy all types and want to come every day."

For more information about the classes or other Mount Pearl Seniors Independence Group activities, call 748-6485 or email

Organizations: Mount Pearl Seniors Independence Group

Geographic location: Mount Pearl

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