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Active Aging

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Smiling elder lady with towel stretching at the gym

Cobb’s seniors prove that athletics doesn’t have an age limit.

By Cory Sekine-Pettite

It is common knowledge that sharks have to move continuously in order to live. For most species, that means constantly swimming for 20 to 30 years. While humans don’t have to move perpetually in order to survive, we can live longer and healthier lives by staying active. This is particularly important as we age. According to the National Council on Aging, regular exercise can help older adults stay independent and prevent many health problems. In keeping with the CDC’s “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans,” the Council recommends two types of physical activity each week to improve health — aerobic and muscle strengthening. Specifically, they advocate moderate aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes, five days a week; and muscle-strengthening activities for two or more days a week that work all major muscle groups.

This healthy movement initiative is a major part of most senior living communities and even some local government programs. We reached out to Cobb Senior Services (CSS) and a couple of 55-plus neighborhoods to find out about the exercise programs available to Cobb’s active seniors. Cobb Senior Services has an extensive array of classes at its various centers, from Zumba to Tai Chi to strength training to yoga and Pilates. Those centers include East Cobb (Sandy Plains Road), Freeman Poole in Smyrna, the North Cobb facility in Acworth, West Cobb Senior Center in Powder Springs, and the Senior Wellness Center in Marietta.

Cobb County Director of Senior Services, Jatunn Gibson, Ph.D., says she wants the residents of the county to know that these services are available to them, and that the county employees certified trainers and physical therapists develop programs and help clientele. She also wants the medical community to be aware of the county’s facilities. “We’re interested in working with local physicians to let them know that we offer wellness within the centers,” Gibson said. “We even have some specific equipment for cardiac rehab.”

Membership is required to access any of CSS’s programs, including the exercise and fitness classes. Cobb residents can sign up online or at one of the centers for $60/year. Additional fees may apply for some classes. For complete details on membership, visit cobbcounty.org/public-services/senior-services.

At Sterling Estates, which has locations in East Cobb (Lower Roswell Road) and West Cobb (Dallas Highway), healthy movement is a top priority. “Between our exercise specialists and myself as a recreation therapist, we really promote active aging,” said Sterling Estates Wellness Director, Laura E. Kelly, MS, CTRS. This senior living community offers plenty of exercise equipment and machines, as well as cross-training and balance classes, and individualized exercise programs. Kelly says from her perspective, the programs are about more than physical movement; they are “purposeful movement.” Additional activities include water aerobics, adaptive golf (for people with disabilities), and therapeutic gardening. “We even have animal-assisted therapy for people that will be more motivated working with the dog than with exercise,” she said. “We try to fit people’s needs, depending on their interests and their motivations.”

Along with how often and the types of physical activity in which the residents participate, Kelly and other wellness staff track their physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being. “We track it all,” she said. “We even have a brain fitness class. But the great thing about the physical classes is that we have adapted those to all ability levels. So for example, for our Tai Chi class, we have the independent folks standing in the back with their mats and then we have people in wheelchairs that are doing it seated as well. So everybody has their level of challenge.”

At Presbyterian Village in Austell, they say whole-person wellness is an everyday way of life. Among the community’s staff are certified wellness and fitness instructors who work to empower residents through diverse and innovative programs that let them embrace the day and live a more fulfilling, meaningful life. Among its many available physical activities are swimming, water aerobics, strength training, and gardening. Presbyterian Village also has tennis courts and extensive walking/jogging trails. The community’s Executive Director, Ken Rhudy, says physical activity is a key part of residents’ daily routines and is crucial not just for the body, but also for the mind.

Additionally, since older populations have a greater risk for injuries from falls, Presbyterian Village hosts classes such as “Balance and Brain” and Tai Chi to help residents improve their overall balance and body control. “A lot of this is focused on balance and strengthening the joints to help prevent [falls],” Rhudy said. Residents also are able to take advantage of opportunities to get out into the community at large for volunteer work and other charitable efforts. “We have a group of our residents who go and read to elementary students on a regular basis,” he said. “And we have a group … that takes the plastic bags you get from a grocery store and they somehow weave those together to create bed rolls for the homeless.”

For residents who are able, travel is another key element for life at Presbyterian Village and a way to stay active. They have taken excursions to New Orleans, to the beach, and even to Selma, Alabama during Black History Month.

Folks with a competitive nature can get involved in the Georgia Golden Olympics (GGO). The GGO is a statewide contest that is being held this year in the City of Warner Robins, Georgia — for adults 50 years of age or older. According to organizers, the event provides an opportunity to participate in amateur sports competition, to learn new leisure skills, to discover that physical activity is for all ages, to meet new friends, and to share good times. Events include tennis, golf, swimming, track and field, cycling, bowling, 5K run and power walk, horseshoes, billiards, Nintendo Wii bowling, and much more.

The founding organizations of the event are: Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health (now the Georgia Department of Public Health); Air Force Base, Services Divisions; Georgia Recreation and Park Association; The Georgia Health Care Association; The University of Georgia, J. W. Fanning Institute for Leadership and Community Development and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The GGO is a qualifying event for the National Senior Games Association and qualifies athletes for the National competition. More than 600 competitors from Georgia qualified for the national event held this past summer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The 2020 GGO Event will qualify athletes for the 2021 National Senior Games in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

There are a number of Cobb residents who compete in these annual events. Kelly said that almost 30 Sterling residents competed in the most recent Fulton County Golden Games (part of the state and national competitions) and that they earned more than 30 medals. Those awards didn’t come by accident. Sterling competitors trained for months in their chosen events. “For example, one of the guys I approached [to compete], he had never played basketball before. …We taught him how to do that and he won a gold medal in free throws,” Kelly said. Another Sterling resident, an 83-year-old rock climber, said “I believe you should never look at age as an obstacle to a way of living. Try everything.”

For Cobb residents who competed in the most recent national games, CSS honored some of these senior athletes in a ceremony in August with county commissioners. “We had over 30 people to qualify [for the National Senior Games] and/or go and participate in the Georgia Golden Olympics,” Gibson said.

In the end, it’s not about the awards or the accolades. As Kelly put it, it’s about staying active and having a purpose. “It’s having a sense of identity,” she said. “Here you have these residents that so often are looked at as ‘older.’ [But now] they’re going home and they’re saying, ‘You know, I’m an athlete. Check this out grandkids!’”

National Senior Citizens Day in Cobb
On August 21, the Senior Citizen Council of Cobb County hosted the 2nd Annual National Senior Citizens Day celebration, honoring six Cobb Senior Services members for their civic activities and community leadership. Cobb County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mike Boyce and Commissioners Lisa Cupid and Keli Gambrill presented each honoree with a life achievement proclamation. The 2019 honorees are as follows:

Pamela Luczon-Peterman, community-at-large honoree
Anthony Gasper, veteran honoree
Vivian Denman-Willis, Cobb Senior Wellness Center
Lola Williamson, North Cobb Senior Center
John Huey, East Cobb Senior Center
Roberta B. Jackson, C. Freeman Poole Center