Katie Smith remembers her wake-up call: the bulge around her stomach area wasn’t just a single “spare tire” anymore; it was multiplying into several rolls of uncomfortable girth.
So at age 74, Smith decided enough was enough.
“I thought about it and I said, ‘Well let me get up off this couch and start doing something,” said Smith of her epiphany two years ago, shortly after moving into Wynhoven Apartments in Marrero.
“When I was in the seventh grade we had to walk to school – we didn’t have a bus. It was a good many miles,” Smith recalls. “I said to myself, ‘Nobody was obese back then.’”
Smith, a retired teacher’s assistant, Marrero businesswoman and parishioner of St. Joseph the Worker, began walking on her own, from building to building across Wynhoven’s campus. She would mix up the walking by going to Wynhoven’s exercise room for a quick 10 minutes on the treadmill and other fitness machines.
“You first start with (losing) the inches then the pounds,” she said. “By the time I was finished, I had done 40 to 50 minutes for the day.”
Finding that the arthritis in her hands and ankles was feeling much better, Smith wanted to share the simple steps she had taken with her fellow residents.
With the permission of management, she launched an hour-long, low-impact exercise and dance session in February called “Body Movers.” The music-filled class draws 8 to 15 seniors twice a week. All embrace the class’ motto: “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”
“Most of these exercises are made up – nothing is really out of the book,” said Smith, who teaches the class as a volunteer.
After praying the Our Father, students do deep-breathing exercises and simple stretches of their hands, arms and shoulders while in a seated position.
“Look over your shoulder like you’re looking for someone,” said Smith, encouraging her students to get the most out of each stretch.
Leg lifts also are done in the chair and in a standing position, using the chair as an anchor. As the session reached its energy peak – after having the students touch their toes 10 times – Smith asked them for one more favor: “Don’t sit down yet! Let’s put our music on for the Twist!”
Novel use of a golf ball
During the cool-down, Smith passed around a box of golf balls and made sure each student had a towel placed beneath her feet. Using the towel as a way to keep the ball from rolling away on the slick floor, the students rolled the golf ball beneath their bare feet, first using their toes, then the ball of the foot, then the arch and finally, the heel.
“I borrowed this from a yoga class I took,” Smith said. “It’s good for the bones and everything. With this arthritis I have ankle problems too. It really helps me. It feels good, especially in the arch.”
The class ends with a 10-minute meditation time, backed by the soothing sounds of distant thunder and falling rain.
Less achiness reported
“My knees were giving me a little problem. I feel much better doing the exercises,” said Eileen Fernandes, 87, adding that other fitness opportunities at Wynhoven include beanbag baseball and darts days.
“I feel my hands and my fingers are much better; I can walk a little better; my feet are much better,” Fernandes said.
“I find it loosens me up and gives me more energy,” said Mildred Smith, 82. “I’m walking much better. Even when I’m in my apartment I try to lift my legs up and work my feet.”
Katie Smith is constantly reminding her students that little changes make a huge difference. Things like turning the head from side to side can stop necks from cracking.
“When you’re washing dishes, lift the plate up and down. Start off with maybe 10 or 15 (lifts), and increase from there. You wouldn’t imagine how little simple things like that have helped me,” said Smith, who attends activities at two other West Bank senior centers for additional stimulation.
“Every day of the week I have something to do,” Smith said. “It keeps me from being bored. When you’re retired, I think, you need something to do every day. After you get up and get yourself together, do something! Don’t just sit around.”
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.