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Area Agency on Aging puts Wanamingo senior citizens on video

Joan Iverson is the heart of the senior citizens’ exercise class. It is her goal to make working out fun, and she usually succeeds. (photo by Sandy Hadler)

By Sandy Hadler


WANAMINGO — Hard work and dedication paid off for Wanamingo senior citizens, who diligently attend exercise classes Tuesday and Thursday mornings each week. The group, which averages 10 people, was chosen to be featured in a promotional video Southeastern Minnesota Area Agency on Aging will put out for senior citizens throughout the state, showing the benefits of remaining active throughout their lifetimes.

On Tuesday, June 21, nine senior citizens arrived at City Hall where they meet to exercise. They found A.J. Montpetit, owner of Workshop, and his side-kick Zach Zurn, ready to begin filming them. The two men were amused by the seniors and sometimes got involved in their conversations.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I’m a blabbermouth when I do this,” Joan Iverson, who leads the exercise group, told the men.

She enthusiastically encouraged all the participants to give it their all while they were exercising. She also warned the seniors not to work so hard that their muscles ached, and to stop if that happens. She said she was told in training not to push people in this age group too hard, as that could be detrimental.

Many of the seniors mentioned that the exercises keep them from getting stiff joints. The gamut of low-impact exercise is perfect for stretching elderly necks, backs, legs, arms and shoulders, and even fingers, which are often the first part of the body to get arthritis, Iverson said.

“Old Arthur comes along and makes our joints sore. If you have Arthur in your fingers, you are going to feel it,” she said.

When everyone stood up to do wall pushups, Iverson quipped, “We do pushups on the wall because if we did them on the floor, none of us would ever get up!”

As she guided the group, Iverson kept up a running commentary about the exercises they were doing, with a little gossip added in, and a lot of encouragement. She has a favorite saying, which has become a mantra for the group. At least once during the class Iverson always says, “It’s in the book!” meaning that the work out is approved by the Arthritis Agency and the SE Minnesota Area on Agency and everyone should try their best to do the exercises.

“One of the things we like to do is have fun, instead of just exercising. For some of us, who have lost our partners, these are the only people we see during the day,” Iverson said.

The presence of the camera crew made Ruthel Zalky a little giddy. She laughed a number of times, and when Iverson asked if the group exercises at home, she feistily responded, “No, why should I?” which got a laugh from the others and the camera crew.

Zalky admitted that she usually leaves her exercise equipment in the car in between sessions.

Iverson continues to upgrade her exercise credentials. A few weeks ago she drove to the Cities where she attended a two-day t’ai chi chuan training. She was the only volunteer in attendance. Everyone else was a professional health care worker, except for one elderly man who was there to learn t’ai chi for his personal benefit. Iverson thought he was the oldest person in attendance until he told her he was 83, making her the oldest one.

Iverson will soon incorporate the t’ai chi moves into the other exercises she teaches. It is a set of naturally flowing movements for health and fitness, relaxation, meditation and even self-defense. Because of its gentle nature, t’ai chi is often used as a therapeutic exercise for those who have arthritis or are recuperating after an illness. It is simple to learn, relieves stress levels and lowers blood pressure, she said. It also assists in digestive function and tones the abdominal area, and is helpful for those who have diabetes. It improves balance and emphasizes good posture.

T’ai chi is approved as an exercise for the prevention of falls for the elderly, and it strengthens muscles and ligaments and improves bone density. It also increases cardiovascular and lung function, and in only 20 minutes, gives a healthy body workout, while being fun.

Iverson said it is important for senior citizens to keep the muscles in their necks loose, so they can continue to see to the rear as necessary when they drive. She said it is equally important to keep their fingers moving, especially if they are arthritic; and to exercise the arms, as most people’s arms get weaker with age.

Iverson encourages area seniors to come to City Hall at 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. She emphasizes that besides muscles, everyone’s vocal chords get a good workout, too. Socializing is just as important as the exercises, she said.

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