Low impact exercise class for seniors in La Porte City accentuates fitness, fun

The music selections, classic tunes that harken back to a time when bobby socks and bubble gum ruled the day, are a perfect match for the group. The friendly banter between instructor and participants reveals a trusting relationship developed in just a few short months, all based on the common goal of improving the health and wellness of the La Porte City seniors who spend two mornings a week engaged in a low-impact exercise program. It’s an effort led by instructor Syd Wille and utilizes common, low-tech items such as straight-back chairs, stretchy bands, balls and hand weights.

Wille, who graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with an Exercise Science major in December, is an Assistant Director of Health and Wellness Services with the YWCA in Waterloo. Taking on the role of instructor in April of an exercise class that has been in existence for more than a decade, it didn’t take her long to get a feel for what the group wanted and needed.

Low-impact exercise offers a number of health benefits. As the body ages, exercise can become more challenging. Low-impact exercises can help build and maintain endurance, strength, flexibility and balance, without the the stress that can accompany a high-impact workout.

In addition to Silver Sneakers, Silver Sneakers Yoga and a variety of exercise programs offered at the YWCA (425 Layfayette Street in Waterloo), La Porte City is one of 15 off-site classes offered by the “Y,” made possible by grant funding through the Northeast Iowa Area Agency on Aging. After listening and getting to know the local seniors, Wille quickly learned that variety was a treasured commodity in La Porte City.

“So when I come in, I try to change it up almost every single class. We might do some of the same moves, but in a different order. Or we might have one class more focused on balance, or one with longer cardio,” she said.

Regardless the order, each class uses a variety of movements in the sitting and standing positions. The stretchy bands, balls and hand weights are incorporated to help build strength and flexibility, all at a pace that each participant can easily adapt to their own capabilities.

“When we do the ball circles, we’re really rotating that shoulder. During calf raises, we take those hands away to work that balance,” Wille said, noting some of the various activities that contribute to a well-balanced exercise program. Use of the weights, for example, can aid bone density and muscles, she added. The feedback Wille has received is evidence the program is paying dividends, improving health, wellness and mental outlook.

“Their wrists are moving better, their bone density went up when they went to the doctor, their blood pressure has decreased and they feel more energized for their day,” Wille said, summarizing some of the benefits La Porte City seniors have described as a result of their participation in the classes.

“We have a very welcoming group in LPC. It’s a good way to get up, get your day started and make some friends,” she noted.

“You don’t have to have any previous experience with exercise to start. We modify everything, if there’s something you cannot do,” she added.

The low-impact exercise class meets on Monday and Wednesday mornings from 8:30 – 9:15 at the La Porte City Senior Center, 300 1st Street. Classes are free and open to the public. For additional information about YWCA adult fitness in Waterloo, logon to www.ywcabhc.org/fitness.htm or call 234-7589.