How Inactive Elderly Can Start Exercising
Hip and knee replacements, hunched backs, and shuffling gaits were no impediment for the 18 seniors who hit nearly every tennis ball that came their way, laughing heartily if a ball did land out of their reach.
“I don’t hold back because I know they are capable of executing these shots,” said their instructor, Terry Hampton, who was running the seniors through drills to practice their forehand, backhand, and short-court volleys on the west side of Central Park.
This is Hampton’s third year teaching the tennis lessons to seniors as part of a free exercise program offered in the spring and fall by the City Parks Foundation. Located in parks throughout the five boroughs, the program also includes yoga and walking classes for seniors 60 years and older.
No Experience Necessary
The seniors who attend the classes range in age from 60 to into their 90s and come not only for the exercise, but also for the fellowship.
Ronald Wolf, 72, hadn’t played tennis since a few gym classes back in high school. He came for the exercise, the fun of it, and to improve his tennis skills.
“I’m hoping to improve, from the level where I’m on, I gotta improve,” he said.
Retired computer scientist Dr. Michael Bergelson, 78, likewise had had very little tennis experience and came to the class because his wife signed him up. In poetic, accented English, Bergelson said tennis challenged him, but that he really enjoys the conviviality of the lessons.
“It’s really a pleasure. [The] people are nice, the instructor is very good, not selfish, very outgoing and well-wishing,” he said. “It’s also an environment of people, so you’re not isolated. When you retire you may become isolated.”
Another senior player, Mary Kane, a resident of Manhattan who declined to give her age, said she comes both to “get the exercise and socialize.” Kane is a bit more serious about the sport, having played for 10 years. She also watches tennis on television and has been to see the U.S. Open.
For Kane, a great benefit of the class is the chance to focus on improving her stroke, which she said is difficult to focus on when she’s playing with her friends for fun.
Hampton said some of the seniors have more energy and are more motivated than the children he teaches over the summer. But the seniors often have to overcome limitations from things like hip and knee replacements and arthritis. As part of his job, he finds ways around those limitations.
Hampton says he makes sure seniors are properly warmed up before the two-hour classes and modifies the lessons as needed. “If they have shoulder problems, we get them to serve underhand. If there are physical mobility issues, we adjust the lesson,” he said.
Another aide to seniors playing on the courts near 93rd Street, is the crushed-stone surface of the courts, called Har-Tru. Hampton said the surface is pliable and softer on the seniors’ hip and knee joints than other court surfaces.
The free exercise classes offered by the City Parks Foundation run through Nov. 1.
For more information, call 718-760-6999 or visit the City Parks Foundation website.
A senior practices his serve during a free tennis course offered by the City Parks Foundation. (Mary Peters/City Parks Foundation)
The seniors who sign up for tennis lessons are definitely the active subset of the population. For those who want to be more active, personal trainer Rob Morea has five suggestions.
Believe You Can. Rob Morea has been a personal trainer for 26 years, since the era when only movie stars had them. He works with a range of ages, including people in their 70s.
He said it’s never too late to start exercising, but he has noticed that it’s harder for seniors who haven’t been active during their lives to begin exercising. So be patient and kind to yourself, and stick with it!
Find the Place That Feels Right. Relatively inactive seniors often lack confidence in their movements. Morea recommends that seniors hunt for an exercise venue that feels comfortable for them. Large gyms with loud music and a bustle of people can overwhelm the elderly, so they might prefer a smaller gym or a studio with a personal trainer.
Budget for It. For the seniors who would like a personal trainer but worry about the cost of hiring one, Morea said that a few sessions with a personal trainer may be all that is needed to give tentative seniors the physical ability and confidence they need to join a less expensive group class.
Seniors can look at their overall budget to see where they can cut to add in some exercise. For example, Morea said that some people go out to eat a lot, but for the price of a couple in-house meals a week, many could afford a few sessions with a personal trainer.
Train Key Areas. Morea’s advice is that seniors should do exercises that work on their balance, posture, flexibility, and strength to maintain their daily functioning.
These exercises can be simple, such as holding one foot off the ground for 10 seconds, intentionally standing up straight, moving shoulder, hip, knee, and other joints through their natural range of motion, touching their toes, and doing squats with just their bodyweight for resistance.
Taking the right class could mean a senior retains the ability to do daily tasks—such as picking things up from the floor and reaching into low cupboards—for much longer.
Do It Now. Especially in the winter months, Morea recommends that even active seniors find a class to keep them in shape because as seniors age, they begin to lose muscle mass quickly.
Morea’s father is over 80 and still active in the garden and around the house, but Morea said this winter he wants his father to join a class to help maintain his strength.
Rob Morea co-owns the private training studio Great Jones Fitness in East Greenwich Village. 646-707-3249