Qualityof Life for Mature Adults

Published on Thu, Feb 1, 2007
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Quality of Life for Mature Adults

Senior citizens enjoy free programs at center

By Jack Kintner

Stu Currier wants you to exercise. So do Evelyn Yarbrough and Marjan Eicher. They’re three of the several hundred people involved in seniors’ fitness classes on equipment originally purchased for the Blaine Senior Center almost six years ago with a grant from Boeing.

Since then, members of the senior center who have completed a twenty-session bi-weekly class can continue indefinitely to exercise for free on the equipment as long as they maintain their $25 annual membership.

Yarbrough, who was also involved in the $1 million bond issue to build the senior center 15 years ago, worked at Boeing and was instrumental in securing the original $30,000 grant that equipped the exercise room with state of the art Cybex exercise machines.

Eicher, along with her husband Frank, leads hikes for the 96-year-old Mt. Baker Club of Bellingham. The Birch Bay residents retired 20 years ago from the construction business and have kept lives as active as teenagers ever since.

Currier, a genuine Yankee from the Granite State of New Hampshire and a fairly good replica of the state’s famous Old Man of the Mountain at Franconia Notch, has taught the exercise classes for the past year.

The retired Navy commander likes to motivate his charges with a combination of military discipline and humor, heavy on the humor, making the reluctant feel welcome, not embarrassed.

These and other people you’ll find at the senior center are easy to get along with but they really do want you to turn off the TV, get out of the recliner, come on down and start sweatin’ with the oldies, “so whatever it takes,” laughed Currier.

The idea for a senior exercise program came from Western Washington University’s “Mature Adults Study” directed by Dr. Kathleen Knutzen, then chair of Western’s physical education department, nearly ten years ago. Knutzen was able to document impressive fitness gains through exercise and weight training in people as old as 96.

The director of the Blaine senior center at the time, Judy Van Brocklin, learned of Knutzen’s program through her daughter Heidi, a 1998 Western graduate and starting point guard on the women’s basketball team.

“We want to help seniors stay in their homes as long as they can,” said Van Brocklin, “and this exercise program really works.”

The study documented increases in bone strength, an important way for seniors to combat the brittleness in old bones that can lead to a spontaneous break.

“We hear of older folks falling and breaking a hip,” said Van Brocklin, “but what usually happens is that the hip breaks spontaneously and then they’ll fall. This is the best way to prevent that.”

For Eicher it’s a matter of being able to lead the charge up the trails that lace the woods on and around Mt. Baker with her merry band of senior hikers close behind.

“We lead hikes of 10, sometimes 20 miles in a day,” said the energetic senior, “and if we lay off even just a week in our exercise we can feel it. More than just that, it helps mentally and psychologically.”

Currier agreed. Under his leadership class participants keep track of their progress over the ten-week period.

A physician’s release is also necessary prior to enrollment. “This program is terrific. It benefits your mind, body and spirit, kind of closes the circle. You just feel better and whatever’s ailing you seems to diminish. Who wouldn’t want to feel better, meet friends and do it all for free? Or almost free, anyway.”

Classes cost a modest $45 for the ten week course of two one hour classes twice a week, following which participants may continue to work out for free indefinitely.

For more information, call Toni Peller, program director at the senior center, at 332-8040.