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Classes help seniors maintain balance, flexibility

RED WING -- Seniors are finding that staying active can be the gateway to an improved quality of life, and Michele Hoffman is among those helping them achieve that goal.

Hoffman, a certified yoga therapist, has been teaching therapeutic yoga for 15 years -- including 11 years of instructing seniors. She owns Bluff Country Yoga specializing in people over the age of 50.

She also has completed a four-year program in yoga therapy, including an in-depth study of anatomy, physiology and psychology.

Improving flexibility is a major benefit of staying active, Hoffman explains.

"If we are stiff and experience pain in our joints, we don't want to move. Lack of movement probably ages a person more than any one thing that I can think of," she said. "If you're flexible, you're able to do activities that are fun for you, such as gardening, dancing, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, walking, etc."

The Red Wing Senior Center, Jordon Towers and Red Wing YMCA all offer classes to help and encourage seniors to keep or stay active.

"I think it is helpful for seniors to join an exercise class with an instructor who is knowledgeable about adapting to their individual needs and is experienced working with seniors," said Hoffman, who also teaches a yoga class at the senior center. "A group class also gives them a social outlet; they support one another and it's more fun than exercising alone. Having an exercise buddy helps make activity more fun and safer too."

During a Wednesday morning Active Older Adults class at the senior center, laughter is mixed in with the rep counts.

"The people in my classes are so inspirational," instructor Martha Harris said. She is also the healthy living director at the Red Wing Family YMCA.

She agrees in the importance of joining a group class.

"The support of others, having regularly scheduled exercise times and knowing what to do are key for getting the benefits," Harris said.

YMCA member Susan Kolberg explains the benefits of her group class experience.

"I have been battling chronic illness and joined the YMCA in January. Group classes really make a difference, because there is an energy generated in the group with music, other participants and someone leading you," she said. "Having a class, I know that there is someone there to help me, meeting me halfway by providing the leadership and giving time and energy on a regular schedule to support me. I have a community here."

Another option for seniors to stay active safely is yoga. Moves can be designed specifically for an individual's needs and circumstances.

"Yoga improves balance to prevent falls, and it is weight-bearing so it increases bone density," Hoffman said. "Research has shown that yoga can reverse osteoporosis."

Harris explains how one might recommend a group class or some type of physical activity to a parent, grandparent or loved elder.

"Sometimes you have to be a little sneaky about it," Harris said. "Set up a coffee get-together with your parents and some of their peers that are already exercising -- have them invite your mom or dad to join them."

Something as easy as a gift certificate for a class or private yoga lesson can go a long way. Try going to the first class with them to get them started.

"Encourage them to join a senior center or participate in a fitness program for seniors," Hoffman added.

Staying enthused about exercise can be challenging over time. To keep inspired -- just look down a generation, Hoffman said.

"Grandchildren are a great motivator. People want to be able to get down on the floor and play with their grandchildren," Hoffman said.

"People also have improved quality of life such as being able to more easily get up out of a chair or out of the car, they can take a bath because they are strong enough to get out of the bathtub; they can turn their head more easily to look behind them when driving their car. These things seem small, but they really add to a person's quality of life," she added.

"The physical activity is really helping," Kolberg said. "It gives me hope for a better future. As I become active I set new goals for myself."