If you’ve ever dreaded becoming a senior citizen, heed this word of advice: Keep living.
And be happy you did.
Today’s seniors aren’t just living off memories of the fruits of their younger labors. Instead, they’re shaking the tree of life to see what other adventures fall out.
From zip lining to Latin-inspired dance, seniors are moving in on what was previously thought to be young people’s territory.
Sweating to the oldies
“They asked for it,” said Melissa Simpson, fitness director of Lanier Village Estates, a Gainesville retirement community.
“A group of the residents kept saying, ‘What about this Zumba thing we keep hearing about on TV?’ I told them we could do a modified version of it, it would just take a little research.”
Don’t confuse “modified” with “watered-down” because the only water you’ll find in the room during the combined line- and Latin-dance class is either being served on ice or glistening on faces as beads of perspiration.
“It’s a good time,” said Phyllis Harriett, a Lanier Village resident.
“We just let ourselves loose. It’s good cardiovascular exercise.”
The moving and grooving is not only good for your heart, it’s also good for your memory.
As shared by the AARP, a report from the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives says that the keys to slowing mental decline as you get older are staying physically and mentally active.
“It really makes you use your brain,” said Dee Klein, who has been enjoying the dance classes for a while.
“That’s really important to do (as you get older).”
According to Simpson, research shows that challenging your brain to learn and recall new things — like dance steps — can be beneficial in fighting Alzheimer’s disease.
“We’re learning new things,” Caroline van De Pol said.
“We often have new people join us, so we (regulars) repeat what we’ve learned so they can learn it also. It helps to reinforce in our minds what we know.”
The age range at Lanier Village is pretty diverse, as is apparent by the participants in Simpson’s exercise classes. No matter their age, everyone seems to be falling into step just fine.
“They’re not all in their 60s,” Simpson said.
“We have some folks who are in their 70s and 80s and they’re really getting down.”
The J.A. Walters Family YMCA has all of the usual points of interests to draw in the senior community — water aerobics, Tai Chi and ... zip lining?
“Jackie Peet first mentioned to me that she wanted to go zip lining on her 80th birthday, but then she ended up getting sick and thought her chance had passed,” said Heather Phillips, who is the Active Older Adults program coordinator for the Y.
“When they decided to introduce the Active Older Adults day trips, I knew exactly what we should do for our first outing.”
Instead of looking at her like she was crazy, about 15 people — including 82-year-old Peet — agreed to go zip lining at Lake Lanier Islands.
It didn’t hurt that two YMCA lifeguards, Ryan Taylor and Grier Rogers, pull double duty as guides with Lake Lanier Islands Canopy Tours.
“I really wanted them to feel safe for our first outing,” said Phillips, who also teaches senior aquatics classes at J.A. Walters.
“Since (Taylor and Rogers) are familiar with the majority of their limitations through their work with the water program, they were able to help create an even safer and even more caring environment.”
Although their extra efforts were appreciated, that’s not exactly what the participants were focused on. Especially since this was a new experience for the bulk of them.
“After they gave us instructions and we climbed up to the course, it was like, ‘You want me to do what? Just jump out of a tree and not worry about it?’ Art McGovern recalls.
“The first run, everyone was slightly hesitant. By the second and third runs, everyone had their confidence built up and it was just fantastic.”
For McGovern, the older adults excursion may have been his first time zip lining, but it certainly won’t be his last.
“I’ve told numerous friends about it,” he said. “Whenever they come for a visit, we’re all going.”
Whether it’s line dancing or sailing through the trees on safety harnesses, adventures come in all shapes and sizes. The important thing is to get out and enjoy them — no matter how much “snow” you’ve got on your roof.
“I feel like a lot of younger individuals and even some seniors see being a senior (citizen) as having a negative connotation,” Simpson said.
“Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy life.
“I think it’s great to get out there and keep moving. It helps you stay young.”
“It tickles me to think I will be 62 soon and I’m still running 15 miles a week,” said McGovern, a retired federal agent.
“I’m in as good of shape as I’ve been at any point in my life. Age has absolutely nothing to do with it anymore.
“Stay active, eat healthy and you can go as long as you want to.”