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Enhance Fitness Program Helps Elders Reclaim Strength

Community elder Maynard Andrews completes his set of squats during an Enhance Fitness session held on Tuesday, August 2, at the Salt River Senior Center's newly remodeled West Annex building.

While some of us are finding excuses to avoid the gym, the seniors in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community’s Enhance Fitness program are making it a priority to get their workouts in. On Tuesday, August 2, physical fitness instructor Dion Begay hosted his regular Enhance Fitness class, with approximately 13 Community elders in attendance, in the newly remodeled Salt River Senior Center West Annex building.

Since 2011, the Enhance Fitness program has been a hit for the Community’s seniors. If you take a moment to sit and talk with a senior at the Senior Center, you might be surprised to hear that some have lost more than 50 pounds, some have gotten off their diabetes medication completely, some have been receiving good reports from their doctors, and some now take pride in being able to walk with their grandchild to check the mail or even just walk up a couple steps. These are all life-changing accomplishments for our elders.

“I have been training with the elders since 2008 and implemented the Enhance Fitness program in 2011. My hope for Enhance Fitness is to thrive with the participants [and to help the seniors] realize it’s not too late for them to start a fitness program and reclaim their strength,” said Begay.

Community elder Arnold Easchief got his blood pumping with squat and weight repetitions. Community elder Ramona Loring and the other participants also worked with fitness bands, all while working on their breathing.

A Typical Workout

Walking into the class, one hears faint rock music overpowered by laughter. Attendees grab their towels and water bottles just before 9 a.m. and carefully place them next to their chairs. Each participant in the class proudly wears an Enhance Fitness T-shirt. Then the workouts begin.

“Pretty much what you saw is how most classes go,” Begay told me. “We start off with a 10-minute warm-up, including dynamic stretches and mobility exercises for joints that require mobility—the shoulder joint, thoracic spine, hips and ankles. All these movements will prep the senior for the exercises we will be doing and also get blood flowing. A big emphasis is breathing technique. I use what’s called diaphragmatic breathing; this will help with bringing oxygenated blood to our organs.”

While the seniors take short water breaks, many are eager to get through the workout. The room becomes silent as each participant focuses on form and breathing. After each repetition, someone spits out a joke and the entire room is full of laughter again.

“From there, we transition to the strength portion, which is about 20 minutes,” Begay continued. “This consists of six of the seven primal movements: squatting, [bending], lunging, pushing, pulling and twisting. Then the aerobic/cardio portion is about 20 minutes as well. This is mixed with balance and core work. As you saw, I mixed them up to break up the monotony of the routine. Then to end, we finish with more of a static stretch, holding the stretches longer and stretching the back and lower back, also incorporating yoga movements and focusing on breathing.”

After each class, the seniors all give each other positive feedback. Again, the room is full of laughter, hugs and conversations. “I’ll see you at the next class,” lingers in the room before it’s all empty.

Success Stories

Community elder Gwen Antone has been attending the Enhance Fitness classes for three years now. She said, “My age made me slow down. But right now, I am exercising more and it’s helping me be more energetic; my body is more flexible. I have seen a big difference and it’s therapeutic for me.”

Begay said, “My ultimate goal is to begin to transition the seniors from Enhance Fitness to the Salt River Fitness Center and start incorporating more equipment and get them familiar with other means of fitness and strength training. I always felt that fitness and taking care of your body and health creates a sense of empowerment.” He said he is thankful that the Senior Center offers the Enhance Fitness program for the seniors of the Community.

“It does bring us together and it helps us remind each other of our health, building our strength and just having social time together,” said Community elder Laverna Manuel, who has attended the classes for over five years. The Enhance Fitness program “prevents depression, it brings laughter and unity, and it brings us together to share new health information. I want to say that I’m very thankful.” Manuel was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and now that she is more healthy and fitness-conscious, she has been taken off all her diabetes medication.

“My numbers are good, my weight has gone down, and I continue to come because it’s fun and I like to see our elders come exercise and participate. A lot of the seniors here have come a long way.”

Community elder Laurie Thomas also has seen positive results from Enhance Fitness.

“I started back in May of this year because I had a bad report on my doctor visit, so I needed to start exercising,” Thomas said. “My A1C (a measure of blood sugar over several months) went really high, but once I started this program and went to my next [doctor] visit, I was really surprised that my A1C really dropped. I lost 22 pounds, and I’m thrilled about that. I’m going to lose more. When I went, I started out in Lehi, and I couldn’t believe the people—everyone was so friendly towards me, like they knew me when I came in. I’m always excited about coming to work out; I’m thankful for this program. I don’t think I would’ve been able to do what I did.”

Every week varies in participants, but on Tuesday, August 2, the SRPMIC Enhance Fitness Program received 13 friendly faces, ready for a vigorous workout. (back, L-R) Maynard Andrews, Joseph "JJ" Antone, Tony Dallas, SRPMIC physical fitness instructor Dion Begay, Sheron Manuel, and Arnold Easchief. (front, L-R) Laverna Manuel, Ramona Loring, Laurie Thomas, Lorinda Kauakahi, Aggie Manuel, and Gwen Antone.

“Some of these seniors didn’t think they could do a lot of the stuff they are currently accomplishing,” Begay said. “Several have even gotten away from use of canes and walkers and find doing ADLs, or activities of daily living, much easier. Simple tasks like checking the mail, doing laundry, doing yard work or household cleaning are not so tough anymore, and they are able to do these daily jobs with less strain.”

“My wife and I have been working out here now for three years. It’s helped her a lot. I take care of her, so I need to keep up, so I come here too,” said Community elder Sheron Manuel. “Now I can stretch more, I can lift, I can get around better. But my balance … they say when you get older, it’s hard to balance, so here in the class they help us with that. I get around a whole lot better. Everything’s been really good with the doctor too, and I think this is what is helping me. I think it’s a good thing to have Dion come and help us with our exercises as we get older.”

“The class is good for me and my dialysis. I can’t get my steadiness, but I’m trying. I think most of us are so overweight; we need this type of exercise,” said Agatha “Aggie” Manuel, who attends class regularly with her husband, Sheron. “I’ve lost about 50 pounds, and I’m glad because I’ve never been able to lose that on my own. This is good for me.”

If you know a senior who might be interested, or if you would like to learn more about the Enhance Fitness program, contact the Salt River Fitness Center at (480) 362-7320.