Rose Kashuba glided along sprightly, mimicking the motion of cross-country skiing on an exercise machine called the elliptical. Across the room, Angeline Trybuskiewicz finished a series of chest presses, lifting 15 pounds in a routine she had perfected after five years at the Northwest Community Center.
“If I don’t exercise, I feel very lazy, like I should be moving,” said Kashuba, who at age 80 looks years younger. “No arthritis. No prescriptions. I have normal blood pressure and cholesterol. I just have a good lifestyle, I guess.”
Kashuba and Trybuskiewicz, also 80, are among 2,000 adults over age 60 who participate regularly in Club 99, a free fitness program sponsored by the Erie County Department of Senior Services and Senior Nutrition Program. The program is conducted in community centers, hospitals and senior centers by instructors who are trained by Richard “Mr. Fitness” Derwald, 77.
“If you are not physically active, your muscles deteriorate,” said Diane LaBarba, who at 64 leads the chair exercise class at the North Buffalo center. “Exercise can help you regain strength, balance and flexibility.”
Exercise is a lifestyle, and it can power you through any decade of your life, medical experts agree. Older adults especially can benefit from increased physical activity, according to a local gerontologist who routinely sends his patients home with a tai chi DVD.
“Exercise helps reduce pain in joints by making muscles strong,” said Dr. Robert Stall. “Walking a half-mile or quarter-mile three times a week has great benefits. Swimming is another good general exercise. My mother is 76 years old and she plays tennis six days a week.”

Centenarian nation

The U.S. Census Bureau projects the population of people 100 years old or older will swell more than eightfold – from 72,000 to more than 600,000 – by 2050. A huge reason for the increasing longevity, a recent survey by UnitedHealthcare determined, was physical activity. More than half of the 100 centenarians polled said they exercise almost every day. Nearly 45 percent cite walking as their favorite physical activity. In addition, the survey found: 11 percent practice yoga, tai chi or another form of mind/body/spirit activity; 8 percent ride a bicycle regularly; 5 percent jog; and 2 percent engage in sports such as baseball, basketball, soccer or tennis.
The survey, conducted by GfKRoper, telephone-interviewed 100 centenarians and 300 people ages 50 to 55 this spring. It was conducted, in part, to determine how today’s oldest Americans can guide middle-aged boomers to success in aging. Seventy-four percent of those ages 50 to 55 and 65 percent of centenarians believe that exercising with others benefits body and mind.
Betty Wolfram of Black Rock agreed. The 84-year-old has attended Club 99 events for seven years. She rarely misses the chair-exercise class offered at 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The fitness ball and resist-a-band workouts strengthen her muscles from head to toe. They also have helped her maintain balance – despite her nagging arthritis.
“We’ve all got arthritis, so we all ache anyway,” said Wolfram, who wore a wide-brim hat. “Why not ache together? Nobody wants to sit at home and moan.”

Away from the gym

Each year in this country, one of every three adults 65 years old or older has a fall, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Sixty percent of fatal falls suffered by those age 65 and over occur in the home.
“For people who don’t get out much, there is a very simple device called a Restorator,” said gerontologist Stall, who recommends it to many homebound patients. “The pedal exerciser can be placed on the floor or on a table, depending whether you want to exercise your legs or arms.
“Do it while you watch TV,” Stall suggested. “It’s like pedaling a bicycle, and you can adjust the tension to increase resistance.”Older adults who do not exercise often have difficulty performing daily activities, including using the toilet, showering or using stairs. Physical therapists are trained to identify these functional deficits and help remedy them through exercise.
“Maybe they have weak legs or arms, or maybe they have a balance problem,” said Lynn Kelly, physical therapist and rehabilitation coordinator for Visiting Nurses of Niagara County. “Getting in and out of bed can be a problem. The people we see are homebound.
“With the elderly, you always get a decrease in muscle mass as you age,” Kelly explained. “[The nurses] try to get some protein into them. That’s where nutrition comes in. Muscle fibers get less flexible [with age]. It affects your balance and it’s like a vicious cycle.”

Aging gracefully

Since 2006, a five-week program, “Stay Well on Your Feet,” has helped hundreds of older adults in Niagara County maintain good health, according to Claudia Kurtzworth, public health educator for Niagara County. Kurtzworth, a speaker in the program, visits various senior centers, spreading the message of good health with humor.
“One of the questions I ask is: ‘How many of you have arthritis?’ And they all laugh and raise their hands. I call it a challenge, and I tell them not to say you can’t do something. Let’s look at what we can do and build on that.
“We’re not going to make them exercise,” Kurtzworth said. “The word has such a negative connotation that I always call it physical activity.”
Physical activities that have become popular among seniors for their ease and fluidity of movement are tai chi and qigong.
At DeGraff Adult Day Care in North Tonawanda, Marlene Marciniak teaches 24-posture qigong. The day care program is designed to help seniors remain functional. It fosters their independence and offers an opportunity to mingle.
“It’s such a simple, easy, gentle exercise to do,” said the 62-year-old instructor, who teaches the after-lunch crowd at the DeGraff center.
“They’re coming in from lunch and everything is hectic,” Marciniak said. “I turn on my CD. It has the sounds of birds on it. They hear the birds and they know we’re going to get quiet. The class starts with four deep breaths, and then we raise our hands.
“They follow the best they can,” she said. “Sometimes one hand goes up; the other goes sideways. Who cares? They’re focused on what we’re doing. They’re also slowing down their movements. It’s noticeably quieter. You can feel the ripple of calm.”