For Joe Saracino and his wife, Merilee — both in their early 70s — it's imperative they exercise, be it walking a couple of miles a day or playing pickleball. But that all changed in March with …
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For Joe Saracino and his wife, Merilee — both in their early 70s — it's imperative they exercise, be it walking a couple of miles a day or playing pickleball. But that all changed in March with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Then we shut down for a while," he said. "We were devastated without doing something every day. So, it's very important to us.”
Thankfully, that's where Apex Park and Recreation District has come to the rescue in these trying times. Apex is offering classes at the multigenerational Secrest Recreation Center for those feeling isolated this holiday season, including parking lot bingo, hikes and walks while still providing the traditional indoor fitness workouts and a wellness pool. It is also partnering with the Jefferson Center for Mental Health to combat social and mental needs.
“The social part is big. We have friends who come together though we don't get together as much as we did, but we still get to see them,” Saracino said. “The mental part is quite important. … It's important to keep the mind active.”
In non-Covid times, said Katie Groke, Director of Communications and Marketing at Apex, Secrest serves more as a teen activity center. But these days, the center has been repurposed to spread out its fitness offerings while complying with health department limitations. Nowadays, most of the daytime classes are catered to active adults.
“It's really important for us to offer classes for active adults that support their social, emotional and physical well-being,” she said.
When the Community Recreation Center off Wadsworth Boulevard shuttered earlier this year due to COVID-19, most of the senior activities moved to Secrest - less than a mile away - as well as recreation manager Nancy Wellnitz.
Even so, there's been a decline in participation as classes moved online and in-person attendance was limited, Wellnitz said. Still, senior classes are vital both physically and socially.
“We've always said that activity is important but more important than the activity is the socialness of all the classes and meeting others,” Wellnitz said “When they're socially connected, when they go through hard times then they can help each other through. Even though physical activity is great, social is as important if not more important.”
Yoga instructor Margaret Agnew concurred. The National SilverSneakers Instructor of the Year in 2018 said that seniors who are stuck in the house are sitting too much, causing muscle diseases and frail bones.
“I just want them to be active and to do something to keep their muscles as strong as possible,” said the 71-year-old instructor, who has been teaching fitness classes for 37 years. “Muscles make stronger bones and mentally they just need to keep their minds active. Exercise has proven to delay dementia and just make you feel better. Depression has been real with quarantine and the lack of being able to socialize with family and friends. Exercise moves the elevator and just makes them feel better. That to me is everything.”
Groke called it imperative to get the word out to seniors who were regularly attending classes at the Community Recreation Center but have seen those numbers wane in the months since the pandemic hit.
“We're trying to offer something for everyone. We're offering in-person classes with capacity limits. We're offering classes at home that people can do over their computers if they don't feel comfortable going out. We're offering phone registration and phone conversations if they don't feel comfortable getting on a computer. We're offering outside opportunities for both fitness classes and fun events even in the colder weather so if people don't feel comfortable going inside but want to get out of their house,” Groke said. “So we're trying to offer something for everyone in their comfort level.”
Nancy Bretches, 77, said returning to in-person classes is like being back in the “real world.” Physically, she said, she needed the classes. It was also important to her emotional needs as well.
“It makes me feel more human,” Bretches said.
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