Get on your feet

senior fit class

Participants in the senior fit class at Port St. Lucie Civic Center follow instructor Ute Schwartz as she takes them through warm-up exercises. Robert Crook, below, spends time on the exercise equipment at the community center gym. JOHN BIONDO

City offers classes designed to help older adults remain active


Have you been feeling bored, restless or depressed since your retirement? It is difficult to switch to a life of leisure after a lifetime of work, but what you need to do is get up off that couch, drive down to the closest community center and join in some of the senior activities scheduled there.

You aren’t in shape, you say? No problem there. SilverSneakers is here to help. There are classes for breathing exercises that can be done while seated or standing next to a chair and there are some higher-level activities available before you move on to more strenuous classes. There are many options at the two city-operated fitness centers at Port St. Lucie Civic Center, east of U.S. 1, and Port St. Lucie Community Center.

Anne Stadius, city fitness coordinator, said all instructors are SilverSneakers-certified. Prior to the start of the SilverSneakers Yoga stretch class at the community center on Airoso Boulevard, Stadius was busy checking in members and making sure the class was getting set up. The centers have different schedules, she explains, but the classes are all geared for older adults.

Some students who arrived early for the class, helped set up chairs and chatted with friends while waiting for instructor, Maria Vassallo, to arrive. About 30 students soon filled the room, gathering in little clusters for conversation.

“It is important to do this when you stop working,” Kathy Farrell said. “A lot of people aren’t aware of the classes, but they need to be here.”

Once Vassallo arrived, the room quieted as the strains of soft background music filled the room and the students began their relaxation, stretching and breathing exercises.

Steve Levy, who works at the community center gym, said the classes add not only physical activity to the life of retirees, but there is social and mental stimulation involved. It is a way to meet and make friends.

Some participants are interested only in the fitness center. Allan Dotson, 70, enjoys walking on the treadmill. He moved to Port St. Lucie for a job in 1999. He and his wife, Marti, moved to Georgia for five years to be near grandchildren, returning to the city in 2012.

“I walk my dog for a mile every day, before I come in here to walk more,” he said, with a grin. “And then in the afternoons, I work in my garden.” He added that he and Marti work out in the gym four days a week.

Stadius said the civic center’s gym is larger and newer than the one at the community center and it has a different class schedule.

Thankfully, the rooms are larger as 50 or more students showed up for Ute Schwartz’s senior fitness class. Stadius was kept busy bringing in racks of chairs as more and more students appeared.

Attending the class were friends Pat Ditrick and twin sisters, Bonnie Feathers and Lynn Woodside, who have been attending classes for about a month. Ditrick arrived early and snagged three chairs, balls and belts for the trio. They all said they loved the class and the instruction provided.

Once the first notes of Hang On, Sloopy started, the students focused on Schwartz as she led them through warm-up leg exercises, moving with the lively beat of the song. Each person was doing his or her best to mimic the instructor’s movements.

The city’s classes follow Healthways’ SilverSneakers Fitness program, which is the nation’s leading exercise program designed exclusively for older adults. SilverSneakers evolved from a program developed in Arizona in 1992 by Mary Swanson and her company, Healthcare Dimensions. Some health insurance plans and Medicare supplemental plans may pay for the classes. The program began with the idea that it would provide a cost-effective preventive health benefit for older adults. The city membership fees for seniors are $4 a day, $30 a month ($27 a month with auto pay) or $270 a year for those who prefer to pay annually.

Fees can be canceled 30 days after the request. For those who are willing to sign a yearly contract, with a noncancellation clause, the fee is $19.95 a month that is withdrawn electronically from your bank account.

Those interested in taking the classes should check with their health insurance plans to see if they cover partial or full payment. Classes or gym-use can be done at either of the city’s centers and members can take any number of classes offered during the day (and a few in the early evening) that are listed on the city’s schedules for the fitness centers. For more information, check the city’s website: www.cityofpsl.com.

There are no more excuses, so get up and get moving.