Your Health

YMCA proves a quiet ally in lifelong health for all ages

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
Students in the El Camino YMCA EnhanceFitness class undergo their exercise regimen.

In the El Camino YMCA’s EnhanceFitness classes, students ages 60 and up get their exercise whether they use a wheelchair or not. On one recent Tuesday, a handful of students braved the storm to visit the Y and boost their heart rates.

“This low-impact class is for individuals who want to start out or enhance their fitness levels,” said the instructor, who wished to remain anonymous. “It’s great having it at the Y because we’re a community. It’s more than just a gym – everyone interacts with one another.”

EnhanceFitness evolved from a University of Washington study launched in 1993 that revealed fitness not only improved physical functioning in seniors, but also allayed depression and improved social functioning. The El Camino YMCA has offered the program since 2013, in four-month sessions that enable instructors to track their students’ results.

While EnhanceFitness classes are also conducted at El Camino Hospital and Villa Siena Senior Living Community, the instructor said teaching at the YMCA is different.

“Every time I walk through the doors, I feel happy,” she said. “It’s great to see the whole spectrum of ages.”

The wide range means that the seniors can teach life lessons to younger YMCA instructors as well. Including how to talk back. The instructor remembers one instance where a 100-year-old student did not want to follow the rules.

“We try to encourage students to drink water, but this woman didn’t want to,” the instructor said. “When I asked why, she looked at me and said, ‘I would rather go home and drink my brandy.’”

Collaborating with hospitals

Lisa Schouten, wellness coach at the YMCA, works with patients after their discharge from local hospitals. She pointed to two programs – Parkinson’s Exercise Program and Health Transitions – that take people from not just the community, but from the hospital bed, and try to help them avoid a second visit.

The Parkinson’s Exercise Program is a free course that gives students the opportunity to participate in spinning classes, interval and dumbbell training, as well as Drums Alive, a class in which students drum on stability balls.

“This is supposed to be great for brain health,” Schouten said of the varied offerings.

She added that exercise helps students improve cognition.

“Stanford sends a lot of people to us. The Parkinson’s Institute is well aware of what we do and sends us a lot of people as well,” Shouten said.

Shouten said many YMCA members are also support-group leads for members of the community with Parkinson’s.

The Health Transitions program is slightly different. According to Schouten, the complimentary three-month program affiliated with El Camino Hospital helps with pulmonary and cardiac (lungs and heart) rehabilitation.

“Hopefully, they can join the Y and their joining fee is waived,” she said.

Health Transitions started in 2012 with only cardiac patients but has since expanded. There are now approximately 30 participants spread through three levels of the program – and Schouten oversees all of them.

“As they’re finishing their (hospital) rehab, they’re told that there is a Y program where someone will help you,” she said. “I get, for lack of a better word, a ‘prescription’ telling me what their heart rate should be and how hard they should be exercising, so I can fill out what their needs are.”

The relationship enables her to send information back to El Camino Hospital about how the students are progressing. Hospital staff periodically follow up with their former patients, charting their improvement.

Lasting ties

Schouten, for her part, said relationships with trusted institutions brings people into the YMCA.

“About half continue a relationship with the Y,” she said. “Because many of them are older folks, they’ll bring a spouse in with them.”

Schouten encourages it not from a bottom-line perspective, but because it means the students can be more committed to exercise.

“A lot of the ladies say, ‘You know, my husband needs this more than I do.’ I encourage that, because it is so much easier to exercise with somebody than on your own,” she said.

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