About 20 seniors gathered to take part of National Senior Health & Fitness Day on May 31, an event that took place at the John D. Spreckels Center. The morning was punctuated by exercise, healthy snacks and speakers who motivated and helped seniors learn more about aging, exercise, and staying healthy thanks to two speakers – Marg Stark and Cynthia Mendolia.
The day started at 10:15 a.m. with coffee on the patio followed by an optional one mile walk on Orange Avenue. Once the group returned to the center, healthy snacks were available including grapes and strawberries. While the attendees got comfortable, Stark, a Zumba Gold instructor who also happens to be a USA best selling author and screenwriter spoke about her journey to stay healthy. Stark, who also teaches her class at the center, explained that she has not always been the athletic type. She poked fun at herself and said that when she was a young girl she was the last to get picked for sports teams. As a mother of two boys she was around sports events and cheered for her sons’ teams. Stark lived in Coronado for 10 years and has lived in Imperial beach for the past two. For the past eight years Stark has offset the sedentary lifestyle of a writer with Zumba. Eight years ago things changed for Stark when she started taking Zumba with her now mentor and friend Sue Allen Villalva, who has been an inspiration for her. Stark has been teaching Zumba Gold class at Spreckels Center for over a year.
Zumba Gold, is a low impact version of Zumba which features many Latin and world rhythms like Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue and even Flamenco and Tango. The music in her class also includes artists like Shakira, Michael Bublé and ABBA. “I’m turning 60 later this year, it’s appropriate I’m doing a lot of thinking about my third act of life, and how I want to define and redefine those experiences,” she said. “Though I’ve enjoyed success in my professional life, those things are cerebral and have nothing to do with a routine of a fitness instructor.” Stark said often as people get older they tend not try new activities they feel they are not good at. She emphasized that the “key to staying fit is always trying new things that will hold your interest.”
Stark recalled the day she received the call to start teaching Zumba Gold, she was getting ready to have two disks replaced in her neck. Through her willpower and love for Zumba she recovered, and practiced every single day to get ready to teach the class. She also worked through her other health issues like plantar fasciitis, a bone spur, arthritis, a meniscus tear, and the vertigo from long COVID.
Stark stresses that “as we age because of health issues, seniors can still exercise but use modifications… any Zumba instructor… any fitness instructor should help you modify for your body – don’t withdraw from it, do it, and do it with modifications,” she said. Stark cited the New England Journal of Medicine which has discussed dance as an important tool for aging. Regular dance participation is also shown to reduce the risk of dementia by 76% because dance has three components: it has movement, it engages the brain, and is a social outlet which helps lift the mood. “I challenge you today to embrace the audacity to defy expectations that you are not supposed to still be amazingly vibrant, and to recapture those parts of yourself that may have been hidden for a few years and deserve to be wildly flaunted and celebrated in your third act of life,” said Stark.
Mendolia is a national certified health and wellness coach and yoga instructor educating people on fitness and modifications. She works at Sewall Healthy Living Center at Sharp Coronado Hospital. Julia Aguilar, recreation coordinator of John D. Speckles Center asked Mendolia questions based on surveys received by the center’s patrons. Mendolia was asked about the types of arthritis that plague seniors. While osteoarthritis comes with age, due to the deterioration or degeneration within the bone area and cartilage, rheumatoid arthritis is more of an immune system issue which attacks the body and also causes deterioration of the bone in general if left untreated, and it runs in families. Mendolia said she suffers from osteoarthritis in her neck, her knee, and foot. As a young girl she took part in collegiate sports. “I don’t think I would be the person I am if I didn’t continue to move, even when I don’t want to move,” she said. Mendolia stressed that movement, smart movement in general, is very helpful for both types of arthritis.
What kind of exercise is good for arthritis? She recommend swimming in a pool, gentle bike riding, with pedals in front of you, gentle stretching, and gentle yoga. For osteoarthritis Mendolia said seniors can use two or three pound weights, as well as gentle yoga, chair yoga, tai chi, and walking. She also added that seniors can get a workout plan at Sewall Healthy Living Center to work with a trainer or follow on their own. “Doing it properly is key, so you don’t hurt yourself,” she said.
Bone density peaks at 35 years old and osteopenia, or low bone mass, can lead to osteoporosis. Weight bearing exercise and weight training can help offset this. “You can affect it positively once you know about it…knowledge is power,” she said. Some of the things that affect arthritis negatively are not lifting enough weights, smoking, taking steroids, diet, excessive amounts of alcohol and not taking enough vitamin D and calcium. “Diet is so critical for our bones, just like a child you’re raising you want to feed him really well, same thing as we age, we want to nourish and feed really well,” she said.
The CDC recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate to intensive exercise which equals to two hours and 30 minutes. Mendolia is a big believer in eating foods that contain calcium including broccoli, kale, milk, yogurt, eggs, and cheese. Other food items that contain calcium are almond, cashew, and oat milk, juices, cereal, and tofu products. It’s important to limit sugar, salt and additives, phosphates, and limit your caffeine consumption, she said.
She recommends two days a week of exercise, strength training and balance training for seniors. At first it will take a trainer to assist in the learning an exercise routine, but once you are familiar with it, it can be done at home or at the gym. Mendolia said there is a lot of balance involved in Zumba, and dancing in general, as well as tai chi and yoga – balancing is also tied to dementia. “Balancing for 20 seconds is a great exercise, do it everyday. Amaze your friends at parties or your grandchildren,” she said.
“I’m the habit of making movement part of my mental health routine,” she said. Since Mendolia said that she views herself like a wheel that includes all aspects of her life: the spiritual side, physical side, mental side, intellectual side, social side. If you let one of these sides override the others you feel unbalanced. It’s important to include the physical side. She said even on those days when you don’t feel like going out for a walk and exercise – force yourself. One of the attendees spoke of her personal experience saying many times she doesn’t feel like going for a walk, but once she does, she feels better within five minutes of starting.
Someone asked Mendolia to define a brisk walk. She said to think of a brisk walk as – if you are walking to the post office which closes at at five o’clock, and it’s five minutes til.
For the last few minutes of the presentation she led attendees through few exercises – a brisk walk around the room, standing on one foot, and walking in place to show movements that are easy and anyone can do.
Gerri Wood, a Zumba Gold student, took part in the special event and went for a walk on Orange Avenue with the group which included about 15 people. Wood has always been active throughout her life and was glad Mendolia gave an insight into osteoporosis, something she and other seniors are creeping into. “It’s important to move, they have a lot of classes here. I’m blessed I’m able to come here,” she said.
VOL. 113, NO. 27 – July 5, 2023