Who says seniors can’t hold their own?
Senior Citizens Day is coming up on Aug. 21, and classes and programs at the JCC of Mid-Westchester for those over age 65 show seniors can often keep up with the best of the younger set.
“I’m celebrating a birthday on Sunday,” Andrea Lublinski said confidently. “I used to worry about each birthday and what would happen when I can’t exercise.”
But the exercise classes she and her peers take at the JCC offer something that works for each of them and their older bodies.
“I look at these astounding women around me and I know I can go into my 90s doing this,” said Lublinski.
She said she appreciates classes taught by Hartsdale resident Fronda Sobel, a certified fitness instructor and former ballet dancer who is a senior citizen herself. A group fitness instructor since 1977, she has built a loyal following at the JCC .
“She has really made these women strong,” Lublinski said. “We also have a man who just joined the class — he’s 93 years old.”
Following a professional career as a member of the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, Sobel started in the field of fitness after having her first child. She began teaching classes out of her home but, in those days, it was difficult for women to exercise.
“They thought they should be at home vacuuming or dusting or something,” Sobel said.
Despite that, she opened a studio in her basement and started teaching. She built up her reputation as an instructor, gaining more and more students, and eventually started teaching classes at the YMCA in Mount Vernon.
When a job opened up at the JCC, Sobel jumped at the opportunity.
“I think they had 10 classes when I started,” she said. “They really had no schedule and it was only a women’s department. You weren’t allowed to put men in the classes. So, it’s come a long way.”
She served as the women’s fitness director and worked to get certified as an instructor. Around that time, Jane Fonda’s Workout videos gained traction and more people were looking to join exercise classes.
The perception of exercising has come a long way since Sobel first started teaching, and it’s especially important for seniors to continue taking workout classes, said Danielle Wright, the JCC’s fitness director.
“It’s critical for anybody over the age of 40 to continue with their activity, because they may find that they will lose it,” Wright said. “As we start to mature, our joint mobility will slow down and our balance gets affected. That’s why we have many falls and that’s where the strength [training] comes in with the mobility classes.”
Being active and moving around not only helps people maintain balance and core strength. Studies have shown physical health and mental health are connected and exercising — even if it’s just a quick 10-minute brisk walk — releases beneficial endorphins in the brain.
Lublinski said Sobel’s classes are encouraging and she’s comfortable going at her own pace. Her son was born about 30 years ago, but since taking Sobel’s classes, she said, she has found herself capable of working out at the same pace as before she gave birth.
“Fronda encourages everyone to work up to their limits,” Lublinski said. “She asks if they can do more than that, but she doesn’t push them too hard … She eased [me] back into the workout,” Lublinski said. “She watches everyone in the class and gives them helpful tips.”
Barbara Chapnick said Sobel’s classes add self-awareness of posture and technique, which helps when she takes other barre classes.
“[Fronda] is so in tune with how to protect and modify an exercise for each person,” Chapnick said. “She’s a key person for my regimen.”
Suzanne Adel, a student of Sobel’s for 25 years, said the teacher gives each of her students personal attention and corrections.
“Her goal is to have us not only learn, but to improve and increase our strength,” Adel said. “She does this without over-stressing any part of the body.”
The barre class is one of two classes Sobel teaches — she also teaches an interval training class — and because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise, different workouts will fit people differently.
“This place is like a cafeteria,” Sobel said of the JCC Group Fitness program. “People come in and look at the schedule and see there’s a little of this and a little of that.”
Four of Sobel’s students are over the age of 90, including Eunice Kaplan.
“Fronda is my lifeline,” Kaplan said. “I know I have to get up in the morning and get to her class.”
Part of what makes the classes attractive to seniors, Sobel and Wright said, is the sense of community.
“It keeps your mind healthy and it gives you social contact,” Sobel said. “For a senior, there’s nothing more important except food and water.”
Chapnick said she appreciates that sense of community.
“The women in this class have known each other for years,” she said. “We’ve been through the passages of life with each other.”
Above all, the feeling after working out is what keeps people coming back — the feeling of accomplishment and routine.
“It’s the addiction you need,” Sobel said.