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Stretch 101

It's Tuesday morning in the fellowship hall at First Christian Church. As a group gathers to begin their senior stretching class, the room is full of chatter and laughter. It's the sound of friends greeting friends. Their time together is as much about socializing as it is stretching out their muscles.
Instructor Phil Walter has taught senior stretching classes for the past four years in Johnson County. With an extensive background in martial arts, he is a firm believer in stretching and exercise. “As you age, you need to redefine your purpose,” he said. “My purpose is to share what I know about stretching and exercise. My reward is knowing that people are receiving benefits from my efforts.”
According to Walter, it's important to everyone, but especially seniors, to both keep and maintain bone and muscle strength. As we age, muscles become shorter, making people less flexible. He concentrates on flexibility and balance in the class. The students range in age from the mid-fifties to 92 years old. Each student works to the best of their ability. “The only rule in the class is if you do not want to do the stretch or it hurts, don't do it,” he added.
The class often begins with some of the “oldies but goldies” music and before long, the group is dancing, and often singing, to the sounds of music they love as they begin to work their muscles. The hour of stretching not only helps with stress reduction and improved circulation through breathing techniques, but it provides excellent social interaction. This group, many who were once strangers, now find themselves checking on each other, walking together after class and including their new friends in holiday celebrations. Through word of mouth, the class size has grown to between 15 and 20 people. This activity is open to all adults, seniors and non-seniors. While most are women, the number of men taking the class continues to grow. Some of the students have been with Walter for three or four years.
Walter concentrates on various stretches that improve both balance and coordination. He also works on drills to keep oneself from losing balance and falling. Light weights are used in a variety of exercises to strengthen muscles. A more soothing background music is played as students get out their mats and proceed to exercise the lower half of their body and slowly loosen up their muscles. The class meets twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 am to 11:00 am, thanks to the generosity of First Christian Church. There is no charge for the class.
Libby Lowe, a retired registered nurse, is going into her fourth year of taking the stretch class under Walter. “It's not only good for flexibility, it is good for diabetes and controlling blood sugar,” she said. “ You build up to the point you start releasing endorphins and that's good. The socialization is excellent for seniors and you make lots of new friends.”
The Johnson County Senior Center also offers an assortment of activities for seniors. On Mondays and Tuesdays, a group gathers at 12:00 pm for line dancing classes. The length of the class varies, but typically lasts up to two hours. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, a Silver Sneakers exercise class is offered from 10:00 am to 10:45 am. The center also offers a treadmill, elliptical, stationary bikes and some weight machines. This ambitious group also has a walking club where they keep track of the time spent in this activity.
According to Joyce Kidd, director of the center, in October they sponsor the Golden Mile Walk to encourage seniors to keep active. Anyone that walks in this event, both senior and non-senior, receives a free lunch. Groups also gather to walk at Ralph Stout Park or walk around the Senior Center facility.
The senior center offers assistance to seniors in the fall as they may review and change their Medicare options as Part D changes each year. This month, the center had a pharmacist visit the seniors and review their medications, explaining their purpose and making sure there are no serious drug interactions. “We try to have health programs once a month or every other month,” she said.
Twice a year, anyone may take part in the health fair offered at the senior center. For a nominal fee all Johnson Countians can have basic laboratory panels performed to give an insight into their overall health. According to Kidd, there is often a large crowd as the doors open, but it begins to slow down around 10:00 am. The next scheduled health fair is May 10, 2012. On Friday, April 13, the Heart Coach will be in Johnson County, offering heart and vascular disease screen and stroke risk assessment.