How to Be Senior Strong

“As we age, it is so important to maintain our endurance, strength, flexibility and balance,” said Donna Enichen, group fitness coordinator at the Cary Family YMCA. “It’s going to give you a better quality of life. It improves your mood and it improves your ability to do your daily tasks.”

Endurance will help you  walk a little faster, perhaps to cross the street during the walk signal. Strength means being able to carry in the groceries or pick up your grandchildren. Better balance means preventing falls or reaching high shelves. And flexibility means being able to rotate your body to back out of a parking space, or bend down to tie your shoe, Enichen says.

Jennifer Ward Chase, wellness coordinator at Rex Wellness Center of Cary, adds that as we age, our muscles begin to naturally atrophy.

“The older you get, the more sedentary you want to become,” she said. “(But) you want to go against that and continue to move.”

Enichen recommends seniors take part in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. That’s going to look different for each person, based on age and ability.

The YMCA offers 55-minute classes such as tai chi, water aerobics and yoga throughout the week. For someone who has been relatively sedentary, however, “moderate activity” may be 10 minutes of walking a few times each day, she said.

For those who do need to move at a slower pace, the YMCA offers its Light and Lively class, with moderate cardio followed by strength and flexibility training.

At the Cary Senior Center classes are just as varied, says Jody Jameson, operations and program supervisor.

“We recognize that we’re working with ages 55 to 105, so everybody has a different level of ability,” she said.

Understanding that not everyone may be able to pick up a tennis racket or dance their way to fitness, the senior center offers classes such as Get Fit While You Sit and Chair Dancing.
Seniors participating in Get Fit While You Sit will enjoy flexibility exercises, chair yoga and some strength training, all of which can be done seated.

Others may want to get outdoors to get fit. There’s a hiking group organized through the Cary Senior Center, or perhaps a game on the town’s pickleball courts. This racquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis is on the rise in popularity, and not just among seniors.

For those who have not remained active, the key is starting slowly and finding an activity that’s enjoyable, both Enichen and Jameson agree.

Linda Huckabee participates in a Tai Chi class at the Cary YMCA.

For Petty, that was tennis. She has always tried to maintain an active lifestyle, but she didn’t pick up a tennis racket until she was 40.

While not every senior’s venture into fitness may lead to a national championship run, it can lead to something the experts say is just as important as fitness itself: friendship and purpose. Seniors sometimes struggle to find these as they retire from their jobs and their children move away.

“The socialization, the building of friendships, is so important as we age because isolation is a proven killer,” Jameson said.

Petty said her weekly tennis meet-ups are a social outlet in and of themselves. Some of the women in her group have become her close friends.

When she’s had to take breaks due to injury, Petty says she misses tennis and looks forward to returning to the game.

The experts note it’s important to pay attention to injuries and warning signs. Shortness of breath, lightheadedness or pain when exercising are signs it’s time to stop and assess.

“Some can be worked through,” said Ward Chase of Rex Wellness. “Others you need to take a step back and take some time off.”

Petty has suffered a wrist injury and micro tears in her rotator cuff among other injuries, and recognizes the importance of taking those breaks.

“I learned the hard way that the older you get, you really have to listen to your body,” she said.

Yet, her advice to others is to take the time you need, and then get back to what you enjoy.

“If you have to take a break, you don’t throw up your hands and say ‘Oh well,’” she said.

She now takes precautions, wearing a wrist guard for instance, but keeps playing the game.

“Never give up, and never give in,” Petty said. “You can do big things when you’re older.”

Senior Fitness Resources

Cary Family YMCA
(919) 469-9622
ymcatriangle.org/cary-family-ymca

Kraft Family YMCA
(919) 657-9622
ymcatriangle.org/kraft-family-ymca

Cary Tennis Park
(919) 462-2061
townofcary.org

Cary Senior Center
(919) 469-4081
townofcary.org

REX Wellness Center of Cary
(919) 387-0080
rexhealth.com/rh/wellness-centers

WakeMed Healthworks — Apex
(919) 629-8151
wakemed.org/body.cfm?id=3610

Senior Volunteers

Strengthening Self & Community

Cary Hometown Spirit Award winner Anne Kratzer has been giving back to the town for more than 40 years. She says the rewards of volunteering are personal, from new friends to learning to work alongside other generations.

Saint Francis of Assisi once said, “It is in giving that we receive.”  

Cary resident and senior volunteer Anne Kratzer can attest to that truth. The recipient of Cary’s Hometown Spirit Award in 2015 and namesake for the Anne B. Kratzer Educational Gardens at the Page-Walker Arts & History Center has been giving back to the Town of Cary for more than 40 years.

From her work in the League of Women Voters to the creation of the Cary Historical Society, the founding of the Friends of Page-Walker Hotel, the Cary Heritage Museum, and the preservation of the historic White Plains Cemetery (to name a few), her volunteer work has strengthened and improved our community for generations to come.

But Kratzer likes to talk about what she has received.

What began as “a need for adult conversation” in her 30s, blossomed into a passion for preservation and a perfect complement to her career as an art teacher. Now in a new phase of life in her 70s, she continues to volunteer and reflects on its many personal benefits.

“It has given me a tremendous support system. Friends that are near and dear. The opportunity to learn new things. It just keeps me in touch with humanity, which is extremely important,” explained Kratzer. “I’m so energized when I come back from a meeting because it is so great working with other generations. How can you beat that?”

From politics to parks and museums, from soup kitchens to sporting fields, you will find Western Wake seniors volunteering in just about every facet of life.

Health benefits

Cary’s fastest growing population is those of retirement age, thanks to the baby boomers. And the U.S. Census Bureau predicts by 2020 more than 13 million seniors over age 65 will be volunteering in and strengthening their communities nationwide.

These volunteers will also be receiving health benefits themselves. Research shows that senior volunteers have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, lower rates of depression and greater life satisfaction and sense of purpose.

Helen Merentino, age 82, teaches line dancing at the Cary Senior Center. About 99 percent of senior programs here are led by volunteers, many of them seniors themselves.

The Cary Senior Center, regarded as a local gem, is on the front lines of this burgeoning population. Twenty years ago, the center offered 69 programs to seniors 55 and over.

Today it offers 2,000 programs to about 22,000 seniors. Approximately 99 percent of those programs are run by volunteers, a majority of them seniors themselves.

“Their talents and expertise and their ability to share and teach others gives them an opportunity to feel worth, and it shows the younger community they’re valuable and can contribute,” said Jody Jameson, operations and program supervisor at Cary Senior Center.

Look no further than a small pair of bright red, soft-soled dance shoes for evidence of the helper’s high.  

Eighty-two year old Helen Merentino has been teaching line dancing at the center for 12 years. She started with 10 students and now has a class of 90, with a waiting list.  

She also started and leads the competitive senior dance team, The Cary Liners.

“For me it’s a satisfaction, a fulfillment. I leave here and I just feel so darn good for the rest of the day, I can’t even tell you,” Merentino said. “Making people happy, that’s all I care about.”

Western Wake offers countless ways for seniors to get involved in volunteering. Seek out a local church, school or library for opportunities, contact your local senior center or go online to find a volunteer match.

You’re never too old to make a difference. Our communities need, value and thank you!

Want to Volunteer?

Find information on local volunteer opportunities for seniors at:

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