The rhythm is gonna get you … in better shape.

It’s a chilly January morning at the Knolls, a housing community for seniors age 62 and older in Melville, and residents in the clubhouse are three minutes into a popular exercise class.

Called cardio drumming, the roughly 30-minute program is all about keeping hearts and lungs humming — and having a ball. As the final strains of Queen’s invigorating "We Will Rock You" faded, the instructor rallied the group.

"That was your warm-up," said physical therapist Kandrap Shah, known as Ken, who directs the cardiopulmonary program at Excel at Woodbury for Rehabilitation & Nursing and several other Long Island facilities overseen by Paragon Management. "Everybody ready?"

And how. Eager exercisers gripped drumsticks tight. They spent the next half-hour bouncing those sticks off large exercise balls doubling as drums in choreographed movements to the rhythm of such upbeat oldies as "Tutti Frutti," "Jailhouse Rock" and, goodness gracious, "Great Balls of Fire."

Physical therapist Kandrap Shah says he was inspired by a...

Physical therapist Kandrap Shah says he was inspired by a video that showed drumming being used for recreation in an assisted-living facility. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

The spheres are balanced on plus-size buckets that hold them stable at just the right height. It adds up to a health-minded mix: percussion, perspiration and personal gains. "It’s an upper- and lower-body workout. It builds endurance," said Shah. "Getting up and moving around the ball incorporates balance training."

The exercise also boosts moods just as surely as time spent "Walking on Sunshine," another one of his go-to tunes. So many perks for channeling the likes of Phil Collins, say, Ringo Starr or Karen Carpenter.

'It's just great'

Ask Betty Ann Widmann, 91, who drove herself to the hair salon for her standing appointment ahead of the workout. "The class perks me up. It’s just great," she said. "It’s good exercise. I’m sitting down so I’m safe."

Safety is key to the cardio drumming at the Knolls that is offered as part of Paragon’s cardiopulmonary program at facilities in Woodbury, Lynbrook, Glen Cove, Middle Island and Center Moriches. Seniors may remain seated while cardio drumming but have an option to stand for intervals to push themselves.

"Ken and I and other respiratory therapists have been working the last two years on the cardiopulmonary program," said Lisa Penziner, 59, a registered nurse and special projects manager at Excel. Cardio drumming launched in the summer of 2021.

"Paragon wants to really be involved in our communities," said Penziner, who attends the bimonthly cardio-drumming classes at the Knolls and watches workouts from the sidelines to monitor seniors.

"Remember to breathe," Shah reminded his class during the session. "In through your nose. Out through your mouth. Breathe deep."

Betty Ann Widmann says she enjoys the class and appreciates...

Betty Ann Widmann says she enjoys the class and appreciates that the workout is done while seated, making it safe. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Dr. Clifford Feiner, chief of the division of geriatric medicine at Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, isn’t connected to this cardio-drumming program, but he appreciates its potential payoffs.

"Focusing on fitness and mobility is always important, particularly in an era of COVID where everybody is still locked down," he said, adding that cardio drumming "gets the heart rate up and there’s the benefit of the social element. Any exercise is a gift."

Retired business manager Steve Winkelman, 76, and his wife, Angela, 75, a former secretary, took cardio drumming at Oasis Rehabilitation and Nursing in Center Moriches not far from their home. "It makes you exert yourself," he said. "It was motivating."

Former school custodian Jerry Mangone, 76, who lives in Riverhead and has an "environmental airway condition," was introduced to cardio drumming through the same facility. "I liked the rhythms and the songs. I liked humming along."

At the Knolls, when the standing portion of the class came up, Penziner reassured ready-to-rock seniors. "If you feel lightheaded or need to sit down," she said, "your chair is right behind you."

The program’s level of professional expertise around cardiopulmonary health as well as monitoring students, Penziner said, is a distinguishing hallmark of Paragon cardio-drumming classes.

Plans are afoot to expand where the free cardio-drumming classes are given. "We are going to start reaching out to senior centers and libraries," said Penziner.

Working up a sweat

In fact, cardio drumming isn’t a new exercise idea. It has been around for more than a decade. Its profile and popularity rose thanks to a fitness trend called Drums Alive, which blends aerobic dance and drumming. (See box.)

Karen Gowrie says loves that the class has an unexpected...

Karen Gowrie says loves that the class has an unexpected level of exertion. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Shah said he was inspired by a video of a North Carolina assisted-living facility’s use of drumming for recreational purposes. "I work mostly with geriatric patients," he said, adding that his class is tailored to seniors and their cardiopulmonary needs.

"I love it because it really uses a lot more exertion than you’d expect," said Karen Gowrie, 73, a Knolls resident and board member. "I do Zumba three times a week, and I was surprised at the energy you have to put into cardio drumming. You’re perspiring by the end of the half-hour. It’s amazing how much cardio you’re getting out of it."

Shah admitted he huffs and puffs at times during class. "I usually break out in a sweat," he said. "I do catch myself breathing heavily."

For Widmann and Carol Herlihy, 86, who have both bounced back from a broken hip in the past few years, cardio drumming is their latest health-driven collaboration with Shah. They both credit him with helping to get them through rehab following their mishaps.

Carol Herlihy says she has been working with Kandrap Shah...

Carol Herlihy says she has been working with Kandrap Shah since he helped her through rehab after a broken hip. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

"I’m an R.N., so I know about exercise," said Herlihy. "Ken keeps us moving." As they burn calories, they have fun. "Even through a mask we’re laughing. And laughing is good for breathing," Herlily said. The American Lung Association has cited various studies that back her up on that funny-business claim.

Laughs aside, Shah stays serious about body mechanics and form during class. "Watch your posture," he said, as students raised drumsticks overhead and, click, click, click, tapped them together — first to the left side, then to the right. "Relax your shoulders."

As with any fitness endeavor, it’s a must to make sure the exercise is a good match for you. If you have a defibrillator, pacemaker or have had recent cardiac procedure, cardio drumming might not be right for you, said Shah.

Maureen Corbett, 80, who had open-heart surgery in 1997, is a cardio-drumming fan. "It’s simple. It’s easy, and yet you feel the workout," she said. "It's very helpful to me."

Fellow Knolls-ians concur. Gowrie recently ordered more balls to meet the increased demand. "Eight more people wanted to join," she said. "We needed more drums." Goodness gracious, indeed.

In Paragon Management's class at the Knolls, participants beat to...

In Paragon Management's class at the Knolls, participants beat to the rhythms of such tunes as "We Will Rock You" and "Jailhouse Rock." Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

You can’t stop the beat

Like marching to the beat of your own drum, exercising to it has pluses. That’s the point of Drums Alive, whose development has been reported to stretch back to 2001. After a hip injury, Carrie Ekins, a professional dancer in Germany, was stuck in a wheelchair. She began drumming on boxes for physical activity. As she recovered, she stood and drummed on exercise balls. Drums Alive, which incorporates an exercise ball, a container to hold the ball, and drumsticks, was shaped and refined and has been in the fitness spotlight since 2012.

Drums Alive classes are currently offered for members of the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview (miyjcc.org). “The beauty of the class is that you can make it from a low impact all the way up to a high impact,” said instructor Eric Spar, 52, adding that his students tend to be in their 60s. “They’re a bunch of fireballs.”

— Joe Dziemianowicz