By LEIGH PROM
While summer is a great time for senior citizens to get outside and be active, medical professionals urge discernment.
Carilion Trauma Nurse Specialist Sarah Beth Dinwiddie shares the following advice: “It’s important to alter the hours in which one is outside,” she said. “Instead of working in the yard in the middle of the day, aim for earlier or later in the day.”
Staying well-hydrated is also important. Seniors can become more sensitive to medication side effects such as dizziness and dehydration. Dinwiddie recommends they discuss medications and these side effects with doctors and pharmacists.
Heatstroke is another serious condition. Signs of heatstroke include elevated body temperature, dizziness and nausea. Those affected should seek hydration and a cooler environment, and seek medical attention sooner than later. Dinwiddie says heatstroke can occur when seniors push on with tasks such as yard work.
She also encourages people to check on their neighbors to make sure they are cool on hot days, and for those who need financial assistance with cooling costs to reach out for help.
As far as sunburns go, Dinwiddie urges all ages to wear lightweight UV protective clothing and stay out of the sun.
Her final bit of advice is to “get outside and enjoy it. Just be careful and mindful of the activities you’re doing.”
If outside activity isn’t practical or safe, there are a number of other senior-friendly exercise outlets in Franklin County such as the YMCA, Essig Center and Phoebe Needles Conference Center.
Upon visiting the YMCA in Rocky Mount, one can find active seniors throughout the building; whether that’s walking or running on the track or treadmill, using the weight machines, or riding stationary bikes.
Elaine Chitwood, 84, has been coming to the Y for 14 years, averaging four days a week. She and her 79-year-old cousin, Louise Wimmer, walk side-by-side on treadmills before making their way over to the weight machines.
“I feel better when I exercise,” Chitwood said.
George Washington, retired Director of Technology for Franklin County Public Schools, was an original board member of the YMCA for four years in the late 1990s, during which time the Y was built. He confessed to slacking off in working out at the Y since his retirement three years ago. He said he’s now coming more often “to get in the routine.”
Exercise classes are available, such as the Strong Seniors class that’s designed to improve strength, core control, balance and flexibility.
The ground floor of the Y is also home to two pools; one is for laps and the other is a warm therapy pool. Seniors Jim and Martha Gilbert frequently use the lap pool. Martha, 72, usually swims at least 20-24 laps (down and back equals 50 yards) and Jim, 76, does at least 40 laps. They also walk one to two miles on the track upstairs.
The couple has been married for 52 years and live in the Franklin County side of Moneta. Jim said he made a healthy lifestyle change in April 2018. He started coming to the Rocky Mount Y to swim and lost 25 pounds.
“I had had COPD. I don’t have that anymore,” he said of his improving health.
At 7 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Patti Ward cheerfully teaches water exercise classes in the therapy pool. While the classes aren’t specifically for senior citizens, the majority of people in the classes are seniors.
Ward has been teaching the classes for 20 years. One of her original students, Ruth Flora, who’s in her early 90s, just recently retired from the classes. Ward said at one point Flora was scheduled to have rotator cuff surgery, but after her work in the pool, the surgery was not necessary.
“It is an honor and a privilege to serve them in their quest for better health,” Ward said. “I just love them so much.”
She said they have formed bonds of friendship that go beyond the pool. She added that new members are welcome to join the class.
“We are a close group, but we are not a closed group,” she said.
Martha Collins, 78, is a water exercise class member. She said her favorite part about being in the class is that closeness, and the exercise helps her improve her flexibility.
Marian Serge, also a water class student, said she admires the way many of her classmates have overcome health concerns related to hip and knee replacements.
Certified pool operator and head lifeguard Field Spicer watches over those in the pools in the mornings. He estimates the average age of the participants in Ward’s classes to be about 70. He thinks it’s great to see active seniors. “You gotta keep moving. I’ll retire some day and join them,” he added.
The Essig Center also hosts activities for ages 50 and older. Line dancing, pickleball, blood pressure and hearing screenings, and classes for balance, stretching and toning are a few. There is also an open gym time and the Silver-Cise Exercise Room. For more information, go to PlayFranklinCounty.com.
In Callaway, seniors have an opportunity to get fit at The Phoebe Needles Conference Center. The center hosts an Active Seniors Class on Monday and Wednesdays from 10 to 10:45 a.m. The light exercise class includes a beautiful view of the mountains for those working on strength, balance, mobility and flexibility. Participants may use a chair during as well as opt out of any exercise that causes discomfort. Classes are free and no sign up is necessary.
Charlie Beckwith, 85, has been coming to the class for about two years. While the exercise is good, he said he particularly enjoys the camaraderie and friendships. He said, “I always leave feeling happier than when I got there.”
Martha Perry, 80, has also been coming to the class for about two years and said she likes the way it makes her feel.
“It’s important for those of us who come because we need to stay fit,” she added.
She acknowledged that the exercises could be done at home but likely wouldn’t get done because there’s something motivating about getting together to exercise. Like Beckwith, Perry says socializing is a big part of the experience.