Within the last few weeks I was asked to sub a fitness class at the gym where I lead other group fitness classes. The class was one designed for the elderly, including those that are mobility challenged.
Sit N' Be Fit pretty much sums up what the class is all about. Most all of the exercises are done in a chair. Light weights, 2-3 lbs. are used for arm and core exercises. A main focus being functional movements, getting up and down from a chair, reaching overhead, bending down to pick something off the floor as well as just keeping range of movement throughout the body's system of joints.
I had never taught a class like Sit N' Be Fit, and as with endeavoring to do anything new, I was a bit nervous. While my part as an instructor would be pretty low wear and tear on my own body, it was of the utmost importance to me that I not jack up my participants, or give them movements that would leave them feeling frustrated.
Okay, right here I want to interject some thoughts on fitness, dance and aging.
Dancing makes you smarter! Its not just the physical activity, which many studies have shown is part of the recipe for keeping a brain from aging any faster than is has to. In learning, navigating and executing movement patterns in dance the brain is constantly asked to fire on many cylinders. New pathways are made while existing ones are refreshed and groomed. Add music to the mix, there's even more input for the brain to be stimulated by.
Usually dance is social. Whether you are working with partners in couples or group dancing or in a dance/dance fitness class, you are with others collectively sharing the experience. Bonds and memories are built. Keep that social life!
Many movements in dance and /or fitness require cross-lateral movement. Cross-lateral movement is when a limb crosses the mid-line of the body. This action causes the two hemishperes of the brain to communicate via the corpus callosum, the thick band of neuron fibers that connects the two sides of the brain. Cross-lateral movement is vital in an infant's brain development and the brain never outgrows the benefits!
The regular instructor gave me many pointers and ideas. As a licensed Zumba Gold instructor I have had some instruction on the needs of special populations in fitness. I also searched the web for tips and ideas. And if there is one thing I have learned from over almost 20 years of dance, movement and fitness instruction it is to not over think stuff when teaching a format that is new to me. Also, staying flexible and open minded, while always keeping safety as a priority. As long as one has a strong foundation or outline of what they plan to do, most everything else will fall into place. Over thinking and stressing out can often block out creativity.
One of the things that the regular instructor clued me in on was that the regular participants of the class love Big Band Era music. So I jumped onto iTunes and found a huge collection of Big Band tunes. My new play list had classics like King Porter's Stomp, Ain't Misbehavin' and Chattanooga Choo Choo. I also pulled out a couple of Zumba Gold routines that I modified to better fit a seated fitness format.
It is amazing how music, a certain song, can take the mind back to the past with many of the strong emotions that are attached with those memories. I could see in many of the participants' faces the memories of evenings spent with friends and family, loved ones that have passed, children that were once small. A few of the seniors shared smiles and laughter about remembering kicking their heels up with Swing dances like the the Lindy Hop, Jitterbug and Boogie Woogie. One woman told me that it was time to go home from the Town Grange when all the kids were asleep on the benches that lined the walls of the dance floor. For another woman "I'll Never Smile Again" brought back memories of all the tears she shed while being a young wife and mother with a husband fighting overseas in WW11.
I had all the participants walk around to the backs of their chairs for some standing exercises, the backs of the chairs offering something to hold onto for extra support. Using some Zumba Gold routines we heated things up with some dancin'. Doing movements to swing and mambo tunes had a lot of eyes sparkling.
So my subbing gig for Sit N' Be Fit is over, for now at least. Hopefully I will be asked to sub again. I so greatly enjoyed leading the classes. I so admire the participants for staying active both physically and socially.
Since I am in my early forties, I'm sorta at that place where I am feeling comfortable in my own skin, for the most part. I feel I have a better grip on what being vibrant and sexy means to me. But I also have those moments of "Oh sh*t, where the hell did my youth go?" "Oh. My. God. I'm becoming invisible." "Am I still desirable? Should I even care?" Yeah, I know some of those thoughts are a bit shallow, but I also know that they are not uncommon in my age group. I also have the relief that comes with knowing that the aforementioned concerns really aren't as important as to me as they used to be. I can focus on other things that are far more interesting and fulfilling.
My short spurts of time with those elderly exercisers was a real treat for me. I take comfort in knowing that if I just keep on keepin' on, I will be just fine know matter how many wrinkles I wear on my face or how stiff I may feel. Keeping connected to family, friends and community seems to make life a joy at any age!
Earlier I mentioned Swing dancing.
Now go make some memories!
Thanks for reading.
Enjoy the dance that is life!