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Good to Know: Exercise instructor redefines fitness for senior citizens

Fitness guru Curtis Adams puts up his "boxing

Fitness guru Curtis Adams puts up his "boxing guards" to lead his group through a superset of cardio boxing jabs and kicks. Photo Credit: Sun Sentinel (TNS)/Olivia Lloyd

In one of his average workout classes, Curtis Adams will lead his group through a series of exercises, including jogging, jackknives and cardio boxing. But the participants may not fit the typical image people have of those who work out. His class at Pacifica Senior Living Forest Trace in Lauderhill, Florida, includes seniors in their 70s, 80s and 90s.

Adams, 45, became part of the senior fitness world 12 years ago when he was working as a personal trainer in Maryland.

“A lady named Mary Carl came into my studio, she was 76, and she said, ‘Would you mind training me?’ ” Adams said. “I said yes, but I had no experience training seniors. So I began to do research, and I found out that there were exercises, but they were outdated. I started coming up with creative ideas and training her.”

This turned his attention to the underserved fitness needs of the senior community. Adams started learning from physical trainers at hospitals to understand what exercise looks like for the 55-and-over community.

Five years ago, Adams began teaching classes at Pacifica. Shortly after, residents there encouraged him to take his passion for fitness to a greater audience. In 2016, he signed a contract with Jewish Life Television to produce a series called “A New Way 2 Move.” He recently renewed his contract with JLTV through 2020, and Pacifica honored him with a brief celebration June 16.

“When he comes two days a week, there are 50 people in that room, wheelchairs, walkers and all,” said Pacifica’s director of entertainment, Jamie Danger. “When I started here, I couldn’t believe the love and desire to learn from him.”

For the celebration, staff members decorated a stage in the activity room where Adams leads his classes. After thanking him for his work at Pacifica, Danger opened up the floor to questions and comments. One resident, George Levitt, yelled out: “Curtis, I consider you the treasure of Forest Trace.”

Many seem to agree. Since coming to Pacifica five years ago, Adams has attracted a loyal following of seniors who regularly attend his classes to exercise and maintain their mobility.

“Since the day he came, the only time I haven’t come is if I was away,” said Marilyn Hertz, 92, who was a ski instructor for 40 years. “The best thing about Curtis is he’s very knowledgeable. There are so many exercise classes, but I’ve never known anybody who can tell people about the human body and the muscles, and how to exercise without hurting yourself, and that’s really important.”

His JLTV videos, which are on YouTube and sold on Amazon, have garnered him small fame in the niche world of senior exercise. His YouTube channel has nearly 6,000 subscribers and one of his videos has over 50,000 views.

“It was crazy. I had no idea I’d be doing television, and it’s national,” Adams said. “It’s really cool, the response I’ve gotten.”

After the event, in which Adams led the seniors through some seated exercises, the crowd moved to an adjacent room in the activities facility for healthy smoothies.

Many of them sipped kale drinks while thanking Adams for his work at Pacifica.

Because of the age range in his classes, Adams has learned to accommodate all types of abilities, which reflects in his videos that feature one person sitting and one person standing. Adams also understands that for seniors, physical ability is not necessarily the only factor he must account for in his classes.

“A lot of them are physically able to do things but mentally they’re scared,” he said. “Some of them have taken a fall, and now they’re physically able, but we have to train their minds to believe they can do it.”

Based on the testimony from the residents at Pacifica, Adams has become an influential force in many of the seniors’ lives, but he did not envision this as his career. He initially resisted following this path but after seeing the impact his training had on the seniors he worked with, he said he knew he had found a new calling.

“I used to be in corporate fitness, and I was doing very well, but it didn’t fulfill me,” he said. “Then I started doing this, and I’ve been doing it for 12 years. It changed my life, it changed me.

“There was a need, and I said OK.”

For more stories about retirement, visit newsday.com/Act2.

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