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Healthy, fit and having fun

Seniors warm up and work out to keep in shape and independent

Posted: March 1, 2009 11:37 p.m.
Updated: March 2, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Linda Bennett, center, leads the workout at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center on Wednesday.

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The dining room at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center transformed into a gym as more and more seniors joined the circle of marchers, warming up for the upcoming exercise.

Linda Bennett, setting up her hands-free microphone, prepared herself for another day of instruction.

"The phrase of the week this week is ‘I'm blessed,'" Bennett said. "I want you to tell yourself this whenever you are feeling low this week."

George Burns (who lived to be 100 years old) used to say, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!"

It's true that some individuals are blessed with good genes, and no matter how many unhealthy lifestyle habits they might have, they're going to live to an old age.

For those who might be concerned with the quality of life as they age, exercise is one of the main ingredients. And it's never too late to start. Bennett and her team, Lisa Barnes and Joyce Menta, are the key senior workout instructors for the Santa Clarita Valley.

"We are all very experienced and grandmas to boot," Bennett said.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, one of these instructors can be found sweating at the SCV Senior Center. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Bennett leads classes at the Bouquet Canyon Senior Apartments.

Senior aerobics is usually low-impact, improves flexibility and cardiovascular health, and revitalizes the person working out, giving him or her more energy, confidence, and satisfaction. But just because it's low-impact doesn't necessarily mean it's easy.

"It's important to keep (seniors) challenged," Bennett said. "New people are often surprised when they attend a class. They think that if they're going to the senior center to work out, it's going to be easy."

The class is senior-conscious though, and Bennett offers many options for seniors of all fitness levels.

Muscle mass decreases as time goes on, which is why it is important to incorporate muscle training in a work-out routine. Muscle maintains strength, burns calories, helps maintain weight, and it contributes to balance and bone strength. Without it, it is more likely to lose independence and mobility.

The good news is that muscle mass can increase at any age in response to exercise.

"The point is to keep them healthy, strong, and independent," Bennett said. "Independence is really important here. And they keep their dignity."

Regular physical activity, in addition to making seniors look and feel good, lowers risks for a variety of conditions including Alzheimer's and dementia, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure and obesity.

Bennett started the program at the senior center in 1984.

"I've never taken a holiday unless the center takes a holiday," she said. "I still have a few students with me since the beginning."

Bess Barber is one of those students. Despite three knee surgeries and a hip replacement, she keeps coming back for more.

Sharon Lanphere is another long-time student.

"I come to every class," she said.

"She is one of my many stud muffins," Bennett said. "A stud-ette, I should say."

In 2000, Bennett expanded her Senior Center contract to include Bouquet Canyon Senior Apartments and started a fitness schedule there as well.

With classes like "Low Impact Aerobics," "E Z Dance Cardio Fitness," "Sit-N-B-Fit", Chair Yoga/Pilates, and PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise), Bennett needs to be certified to conduct each class. She first started teaching fitness classes in the SCV in 1975 and continues to receive fitness education today.

"You're working with people's bodies," she said. "You need to know how to keep them in balance - and young."

Bennett is a personal trainer, specializing in senior and special needs.

"I have always had a passion for wellness," Bennett said. "I am a dancer, I have a medical background, and I've always enjoyed the company of seniors."

Bennett previously worked at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital for 20 years, but as she got older, she turned her focus to the senior population.

"The baby boomers are here in force, and I want to help them stay strong, healthy, independent, and keep their dignity," she said. "Besides, I'm a baby boomer so I can really relate!"

Fitness classes are held at the SCV Senior Center every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting at 8:30 a.m. For details regarding times, visit www.scvseniorcenter.org. The SCV Center is located at 22900 Market Street. Classes are held at Bouquet Canyon Senior Apartments every Tuesday and Thursday, starting at 8:45 a.m. The senior apartments are located at 26705 Bouquet Canyon Road. For more information, contact Linda Bennett at (661) 933-3969 or e-mail her at lbnewhall@yahoo.com.

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