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5 exercises for seniors on Long Island

New York's population is getting older, and Long Island is aging at an even faster clip than the state average. As baby boomers pass the half-century mark and the 65-and-over population grows, older adults and seniors looking to get or stay active, improve their health, or be part of a social activity have a host of options. Here are five senior-friendly options for exercise on Long Island:

(Always check with a doctor before starting a new exercise routine.)

Zumba Gold

The popular dance fitness craze is in gyms
Photo Credit: John Meehan

The popular dance fitness craze is in gyms all over Long Island. The “gold” version uses “the same Latin rhythms,” said Ronnie Gilbert of Golden Girls Fitness in Deer Park, “but all the steps are moderate for the aging, the active adult, beginners, or people coming back from injury.” Golden Girls Fitness, in particular, is a year-old gym geared toward creating a comfortable environment for older adults.

“Many people that come are from a generation of people that used to dance anyways,” said Lauren Singer, who has taught Zumba Gold at the Y in Huntington and through the town. “The fact that it’s a dance fitness program appeals to them.” Zumba Gold addresses physical goals such as improving strength and stamina, balance, toning, and range of motion, says Singer said. It also helps increase functional skills, she said, as well as boost self-esteem and decrease depression, anxiety, and stress.

“People are learning to shimmy, to move, and to shake to very exciting rhythms from all over the world: salsa, meringue, cha-cha,” Singer said, but in a context that is “easier, more approachable, and safer.”

Aqua Aerobics

For those who want to trade dry land

For those who want to trade dry land for a pool, aqua aerobics and aqua fitness classes can be geared toward a general senior crowd or to people suffering from arthritis.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get cardio as well as a strength workout because water offers resistance,” said Heidi Roussis, fitness program coordinator at Sid Jacobsen JCC in East Hills. At the same time, the water is buoyant, she explained, which means seniors can exercise without the impact. Aquatics classes might employ water dumbbells and noodles in addition to a lot of independent body movement, which can be freer in the water, to increase strength and burn calories.

“Water programs are allowing people to do more,” Roussis said, to “stay healthy and fit without aggravating joints and injuries.”

Chair Yoga

Yoga is here, there, and everywhere on Long
Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Yoga is here, there, and everywhere on Long Island. But for some, getting up and down from a mat can be a challenge. As an alternative, seniors can search for yoga classes that use a chair. Classes for more active adults can combine seated poses with standing ones that treat the chair merely as a tool, said Lore Kent, who has taught chair yoga at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and community centers on Long Island and trained other instructors to do the same. For older seniors who are not as versatile, she does the entire practice in the chair. Benefits include improved balance -- which is essential for seniors -- as well as strength and flexibility, just as with mat yoga. “Any yoga session with older people should definitely key in on the breath,” said Kent, who will occasionally stop and focus on breathing exercises to allow seniors to rest before continuing the class. Chair yoga still hasn’t become a mainstream offering at yoga studios, she says, but she recommends checking a local library, community center, adult education program, JCC, or Y.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is really a traditional martial art,
Photo Credit: E. Ellner

Tai Chi is really a traditional martial art, said Teresa White, who teaches at the Long Island Center for Yoga in Babylon, but many programs adjust the practice; they offer Tai Chi based exercises that are friendly to older adults.

“I view Tai Chi as a preventive measure that people should start as early as possible,” White said. It’s become known for health benefits, she says, because it’s good for the joints, blood pressure, diabetes, Parkinson’s, depression, and more.

“It’s also good for mental focus,” she said. “It helps develop the brain-body connection.” In fact, she calls it a “work in.” Students may not move a great distance or at a fast pace, she explains, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy; it requires commitment and dedication. “People are always surprised how much they sweat doing Tai Chi!”

Virtual Exercise

For seniors who don’t have the right fitness
Photo Credit: Senior Exercises Online

For seniors who don’t have the right fitness classes nearby -- or who want to add to their routine -- there are always online videos or virtual classes. A few years ago, North Hempstead offered a yoga class via Skype through its Project Independence. Many sites host videos specifically geared toward older adults.

For example, Mike Ross, a personal trainer who works at a fitness center in the Chicago area that caters toward older adults, started emailing out weekly videos of bite-sized exercises for seniors. Now, he maintains a website with more than two dozen videos, most about five minutes long.

“Most gyms, a lot of this demographic doesn’t want to go to because its young people in their 20s and 30s, loud music,” Ross said. Starting off with short exercise videos at home can be less intimidating, he says. But the same rules apply: Check with your doctor first and start slow, Ross said, “it’s better to do too little today and do more tomorrow.”

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