Senior Life: Seniors bend into shape

March 10, 2017
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People of all ages trying to stay in shape can draw inspiration from the senior fitness class at Springhouse Senior Living.

Kelly Sullivan teaches a class that she calls “Fit Mix,” which is a mixed fitness class for seniors ranging in age from the mid 80s up to 105 years old, with the bulk of them in their late 90s. The class consists of about 12 seniors and meets three mornings a week.

“I feel like my class is exceptional considering their age,” Sullivan said. “They are an inspiration to their peers and committed to living life to the fullest. What my class does three times a week is remarkable.”

The class is a combination of Zumba, muscle conditioning, balance, and aerobics. It includes standing and sitting aerobic moves, as well as using weights and challenging balance.

Sullivan said that there are a lot of modifications available in her class to keep everybody challenged and to prevent injuries. Many of the exercises can be done standing by a chair or sitting down, including calf raises. The class also incorporates music from the 1950s.

Sullivan says that the class is both fun and taken seriously, and has become a close-knit community for Sullivan and her students.

It would be hard to imagine the class not being close, since Sullivan has been teaching it for 15 years, and some of the students have been with her the whole time.

Sullivan started teaching the class to fill in her schedule in the mornings. She said that at the time she thought she would only work there for a year or two and leave to have a baby, but she is still enjoying teaching the class today.          Sullivan did end up having her child and continued to teach the class as she raised her daughter. Her daughter is 13 years old and comes to the class from time to time.

“It’s truly a family affair,” Sullivan said. “Some of the ladies consider themselves grandparents to my daughter. I continued working at Springhouse because it’s the group that I love so much.”

Sullivan said that other fitness instructors might get frustrated teaching senior classes, but she enjoys “taking it down a notch” and the sense of community. She also teaches fitness classes at Benefitness Health Club in Brookline. Sullivan said that one of the biggest differences besides the level of the class is the fact that the seniors always have great attitudes and get to know each other better than in other fitness classes.

Visitors to the class have said that what the students can do and how sharp their minds are is incredible. Sullivan said she is often asked what the secret is.

“I think the secret is that they’re faithful, they want to live, and they love life. It’s about more than just living; it’s living well,” Sullivan said. “The toughest thing about my class is getting through the door. The only peer pressure comes when you don’t show up!”

Sullivan said that while some of her students were very active their whole lives, some of her students were not particularly so. But, she said, when they saw the class, they became regular members and are motivated about staying healthy and in shape.

One of her students, Fuzzy Downs, is 105 years old, and has taken the class with Sullivan for the entire 15 years that she has been teaching it. Fuzzy is a retired pediatrician, and practiced epidemiology in the time when researchers were just beginning to discover that babies and children could get cancer and diabetes.

“Fuzzy is an amazing person for what she knows about and what she’s done in her life,” Sullivan said.

Other seniors in the class have professional backgrounds as well, which Sullivan said was remarkable considering the cultural norms of the times they grew up in.

Sullivan and her husband own the Mann & Rodgers Funeral Home in Jamaica Plain. She jokes that her work is totally separate from the fitness class.

“I tell my students, ‘my job is to keep you outside of the funeral home; I don’t need to see you in there,’” she said.

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