Janet Jarvis, 75, has been teaching fitness classes at the Y in Catonsville for over 40 years. “When we started, we wore leg warmers and leotards and all the classes were choreographed routines that changed every six weeks,” Janet said.
“Back then it was all about dance, no strength training.”
But since that time, Janet has taught everything from aerobics to spinning and strength training. Janet even held the position as Fitness Coordinator.
However, about fifteen years ago, when the Y’s senior fitness class was left without an instructor, Janet had to find a new instructor. She wasn’t anxious to take it on herself. “I thought, what will I get out of the class?” Janet said.
Although, she was technically a senior at 60 years old, Janet was much more active than the members in the class. (Even during this interview she kept popping up to demonstrate different moves.) But as the fitness coordinator, she had to staff the class and after one instructor didn’t work out, the class asked her to be the new instructor. She agreed to teach the class on one condition: The participants had to face the mirror.
Prior to Janet teaching, the participants had always been sitting in chairs with their backs to the mirrors. She felt it was important that they face the mirror so she could see everyone when she was facing the mirror and so they could see their own form on each move. “It was a safety issue,” Janet said. “When I’m facing the mirror, I have to be able to see them so I can check their posture and form,” Janet said.
In addition, Janet wanted to get them out of the chairs and moving. It wasn’t just because she thought it was a good idea, she had been taking certified senior fitness classes and CEC courses in the field. There had been a change in the philosophy when teaching seniors. The new mantra was, “Seniors can do more.”
The class agreed and Janet began teaching the senior fitness class at the Y in Catonsville. She slowly got them out of the chairs and started making changes to make them stronger and better able to carry out their day to day activities. This is known as functional fitness.
Janet sees her class as not only a way to get her participants stronger, but also to keep them connected to each other.
“We’re concentrating on them just getting here and the social aspects. It’s about establishing a community especially since so many of them live independently,” Janet said.
In addition, during her classes, Janet concentrates on strength training, core, balance and flexibility. “It’s all about core, posture and strength,” Janet said.
“It’s strength training to help them every day doing the laundry and picking things up,” Janet said.
However, it also helps them pursue an active lifestyle. Many of the seniors participate in everything from pickle ball and kayaking to quilting and painting.
She also concentrates on ankle agility and teaching seniors to lift their feet. “Shuffling is going to lead to a fall,” Janet said. “No one thinks about exercising their feet.” However for Janet, exercising the feet and ankles is a priority.
“And balance. Balance is one of the most important things that you can’t see,” she said. Again, Janet empathizes balance to help prevent falls. One part of her balance training is increasing core strength.
She realized that the seniors could benefit from strengthening their entire core to increase overall health and increase balance. “I gradually started working in some of these exercises,” Janet said.
As part of her core training, Janet incorporated the use of exercise balls. “That was a big change.”
On Monday morning, her class of more than 25 Seniors, uses exercise balls in a routine that lasts an hour. She has them lifting the balls, bouncing them, sitting on them for stability and putting them against the wall to perform squats, bicep and tricep exercises. In the background, the music of Fleetwood Mac, Rod Stewart and a few other favorites plays to create a fun fitness experience.
The Y in Catonsville has also added other fitness classes specially designed for seniors including kickboxing and Zumba Gold. “They love Zumba,” Janet said. Having a welcoming environment for seniors is important to Janet and the Y organization.
For the Y in Central Maryland, seniors are an important demographic. Janet said sometimes she is questioned about letting people into her class who have health problems. “I say, if they aren’t here, where will they go,” Janet said. She knows that before they come in they have consulted their doctors so she works with each senior at her/his own level.
After being reluctant at first to take on this class, Janet is now a Senior Fitness Advocate. “I just go to any senior training class I could find for my CECs,” Janet said.
She realizes there is a lot of work still to do. “The biggest disease facing seniors today is ‘the sitting disease’,” Janet said. “We spend too much time sitting.” All this sitting is affecting people’s health of all ages.
For Janet, making her classes fun, interesting and effective is the key. She uses, weights, bands, balls and other equipment to keep her students engaged. And playing games is all part of the fun. But each game has a purpose, keeping her participants mentally and physically fit.
In addition to all the physical benefits, Janet knows its all about the social aspects at well. After class, you’ll often see her participants sitting out in the lobby of the Y in Catonsville drinking coffee and telling stories, before they get ready to go to their next class.
What’s a senior? “Well, what is it for AARP, 50?” Janet said laughing. “So who knows. The older I get, seniors aren’t in their 50s.” The majority of her participants are in their 60s to 80s, but all are welcome.
So what does Janet get out of teaching the senior class. “I love seeing how people progress. What they can do they do. What they can’t do, we modify,” Janet said. “It also keeps me in line too. When I get up in the dead of winter, would I get up if I weren’t teaching? I don’t know. The Y is my second home,” Janet said.
“It’s not a job for me, it’s a calling,” Janet said.
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