exercise and agingI’m in a roomful of Octogenarians. They are all different sizes and genders and they are marching around the room while a Thin Person, with a telephone operator’s headset on, is shouting out numbers: “and 4, and 5, and 6, and 7.…”  Music from the stage play Chorus Line is playing loudly:   “One!…singular sensation!”   Everyone is singing the words as they march in time. They are walking and singing way faster than I can.   I try to keep up but am always the last one I see in the mirror as the group rounds the circle of the huge gym.

The Thin Person yells out to the group to walk backwards and throw your hands in the air.  By the time I get myself going backwards, the group has turned sideways and is doing a fast side shuffle to New York, New York from the Broadway musical Chicago. I am so out of breath that I only manage to sing the last word of each line. But there is no respite. We have now been asked to kick forward as a Phillip Sousa march slams loudly against the walls and hardwood floors, boosting the moods of all participants except me.

Finally the Thin Person instructs everyone to hurry to the plastic bins along the side wall next to the drinking fountains and select three items: Being the last to reach the bins, my favorite colors are gone and I settle on yellow, which nobody wants: a small yellow plastic ball, a long yellow plastic jumprope looking thing with black handles on each end called a resistance band, and a pair of yellow 2 lb. free weights. We are to put them under our chairs.

Everyone returns to their chairs and is led through a series of stretches: arms forward, grab your right arm at the elbow and pull it over your body to the left as far as you can and hold. Lift that right arm in the air and bend it in back of you. Stretch it with you left hand….and so forth. I watch the thin person, who is now sitting in front of me. The Sousa marches have stopped and everyone is singing some song I don’t know at the top of their lungs.

The Thin Person picks up her resistance band and steps on it with both feet. The group follows; everyone except me. She lifts her right arm up over her head stretching it out to its full length then switches to the left arm. By the time I get on my feet and start pulling up with my right arm, thin person is moving from side to side as she continues to stretch up her arms alternately. I try to move but cannot. Each time I try, I lose balance and fall back against my chair; knocking the yellow ball stashed there out from under. It disappears… somewhere on the other side of the room. l finally give up and sit down, just as thin person is stretching her resistance band under the back of her chair, pulling both ends forward to exercise her arms. She remains seated. The whole class follows suit. Everyone but me.

After the resistance band debacle, we are instructed to place the small plastic ball, which has disappeared from under my chair, between our knees. We are then given a litany of instructions which involve keeping the ball in place as we sit and move our legs up and down. Someone from the back row tosses me a ball just in time to finish up this group of exercises. Finally, we are to take up the free weights and go through a series of movements designed to strengthen our arms.

“Put everything back under your chair and go get a giant plastic ball,”  Thin Person announces.

I run to get a ball before all the purple ones are all gone, stopping by the drinking fountain to gulp down some much needed liquid for my parched throat.

Next up, we are to march around the room with the ball for a while, bouncing it up and down while we kick our legs out in back of us, then sit on it, roll around on it, and lie on it first on our stomachs than on our backs. The most I can do is sit on it while leaning against one of the pillars in the room. By this time, I’m wondering if I’m in the wrong class.

I ask myself: Is this a class for sedentary seniors, seniors who’ve never struggled with resistance bands, or tried to walk around with a plastic ball between their knees, or rolled around atop of an enormous fitness ball? Back when I used to go to the health club, they didn’t have these sorts of things. We just danced back and forth to Jump by Van Halen.

I check my list of classes when I get home to make sure I didn’t make a mistake. The class is listed as: “Stay Fit: A class geared toward the active older adult.” Nope. I wasn’t in the wrong class. But I am amazed at what they expected 80+ seniors to do. In fact, there were a few 90-year-olds in the group. I will definitely stick with it. If those 90-year-olds can do it….so can I!

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