By Corrie Pelc
It’s a Wednesday morning at about 9:30 a.m., and approximately 60 seniors ranging in age from 50 to about 90 are making their way in to the Memorial Center at St. Anthony Parish in the Pocket area.
What are they all here for?
They’re here for the senior fitness class offered three times a week by 88 year-old Carl Hammer and his wife, Sandra.
“I don’t know what I would do without this class and the people in it,” says Pocket resident Nancy Cherry, who has been coming to the class for the past eight years. “Besides the exercise, it’s the people talking, getting together, seeing how everyone’s doing – it’s another family. They have an average of 60 per class that come, so when you have that many people who are faithful to coming to a fitness class, then you know it’s got to be besides just the fitness.”
Jump Up …
Hammer and his wife, Sandra, have been offering a fitness class for seniors for the last 17 years. He says the class first began at E.M. Hart Senior Center in Midtown Sacramento, when he had the opportunity to take over a senior fitness class he and Sandra had been attending, but were not happy with. “I said, I can do that,” he recalls. “I’ve been a salesman most of my life, so I’m just selling something different – I’m selling fitness.”
Hammer and his wife also worked to become certified as older adult trainers. “It’s not quite as detailed as a personal trainer, but just learning what to look for in seniors and what type of exercises are best for seniors,” he explains.
After holding the fitness class there for about six years, Hammer says they were invited to bring their class to St. Anthony Parish, and are now in their 11th year at their current location.
Hammer says they typically have 80 attendees at their Monday morning class, and then about 60 at both the Wednesday and Friday classes. By having such a large number of attendees at each class, he says they’re able to keep their class prices low and only charge $2 per class.
“It’s been a very rewarding place to have a class that big,” Hammer says. “We have a nice commercial carpeted area to work on, and it’s nice in the warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and there’s plenty of parking.”
Jump Down …
As the fitness class is geared towards seniors, Hammer says they focus on things like mobility, flexibility, breathing, and balance.
For example, the class begins with stretching exercises, followed by some breathing techniques, including deep breathing and breathing through the nose. Then Hammer moves participants into leg and balance exercises, and then some marching exercises to get them moving. And later on in the class, attendees may work with one to two pound weights, balls and resistance bands as well.
As each participant has a chair to work with, he says they can use it to hold on to during balance exercises, or some will do some exercises seated depending on their physical limitations. “It’s all different – we’ve had people in wheelchairs, we’ve had some people with walkers and canes,” he explains. “So they do what they can within their ability and capabilities.”
Additionally, Sandra keeps an eye on all the participants to make sure everyone is okay. “Some of them might have a bad shoulder or something, so she’s keeping tabs so that somebody doesn’t overdue it,” Hammer explains.
For Sidney Thomas of South Sacramento who has been coming to the class for a year and-a-half, the exercises have helped him become limber and have helped him with some ankle issues. “Because I’ve been volunteering with a group that does home safety services and we’ve been crawling up in a lot of areas, lately my ankles are really stronger,” he says.
And Pocket resident Roberta DelPonte says the class has taught her better health and that she must keep moving. “It keeps us all healthy, it keeps us moving, it keeps us going and doing,” she adds.
And Move It All Around
In addition to the obvious fitness benefits of the class, Hammer says it also provides a social aspect as the class gets seniors out of the house and meeting others.
Greenhaven resident Gloria Marquette agrees, and says over the past four years she’s enjoyed the social part of the class. “I have a lot of my friends here from the church and then I’ve met other people and we’ve become good friends over the years,” she explains. “It brings people out, people who would normally just be sitting at home – they come out and socialize and get their bodies moving.”
Hammer says he’s seen a lot of friendships develop. “It’s a fantastic thing to see somebody come in who’s kind of shy and after a month or four or five weeks they’re talking to everybody and going out to lunch,” he explains.
Additionally, Hammer says about four times a year they hold a potluck meal to add to the social nature of the class. “Because we have such a diverse attendance of all different ethnic groups, it really makes it interesting and fun, and gets people out and gets them moving,” he adds.
Fr. Bong Rojas, pastor of St. Anthony Catholic Church, believes the fitness class contributes to the quality of life of the seniors, and helps them create more energy. “With the network that these classes provide, the participants build strong friendships and eventually provide pathways for wider networking in the Pocket community,” he says. “I believe that in everything we do, we build on relationships; and this classes provide an opportunity to foster those kinds of relationships.”
And as Pocket resident Dottie Fong will tell you – who has been taking fitness classes instructed by Hammer since 1998 – the classes have helped her become very healthy and strong at her age.
Fong highly recommends the class to all seniors as she believes it can help their bodies and their minds. “Come and try it because you never know what you’ll learn,” she says. “And if you feel that you can’t do it, you’ll be surprised – you can do it.”
Head-to-Toe Senior Fitness classes are held Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:45-10:45 am at the Memorial Center at St. Anthony Parish. For more information, call 929-2418.