Senior Fitness: Age is Just a Number

In 1997 Carolyn Hillsten saw an ad in the newspaper for a senior citizen fitness class at Lamar Orange. The free class seemed like a good idea so she signed up.

Twenty-four years later Carolyn is one of the five original senior fitness students who still meet with the class three times a week for exercise and fun.

“I should have enough credit hours with the college to have a dozen degrees by now,” she joked.

At 77 years young, Carolyn is the youngest of the original class, which has been led by Don Thomas since it started as a research grant class in 1997.

“This class has changed me as a teacher,” he said. “Now I understand the purpose of being fit and healthy because I see the final product.”

Helen Broussard is 79 and signed up for the class in 1997 after her husband got a letter in the mail about it.

“I was too young to take the class, but I came anyway,” she said with a grin.

Jane Bonnin Jenis is 86 and said that while the class is great exercise, it’s more of a social event now.

At 90 years young, Jacque Phelps said her favorite times in the fitness class were when they did line dancing and learned Tai Chi.

And rounding out the original group is Gwen Boehm who is the ripe age of 98. She doesn’t talk as much as the other ladies, but she keeps up with them when it comes to exercise.

“I’m very proud of them,” Don said of his original students. “It’s satisfying to see what’s accomplished. One of the best things LSCO ever did was get them in here.”

From walking to weights, the class covers it all. It was originally set up as a three-year grant research class to study the elderly and exercise. At the end of the grant, when the research was complete, the students wanted to keep the class going. For a small fee, the senior fitness class continued. Seniors pay just $59 a semester for the non-credit class.

Jacque Phelps said the group of original students has been with Don so long, they usually know what to do next.

Wearing a baseball cap, Helen leads her classmates and friends on a lap around the Student Center gym. On this particular day, the group had walked a mile and a half by 10:30 a.m.

“All of our doctors tell us we’re in excellent health,” she said. “When we go in for our visits, the doctors tell us they’ll see us in a year.”

Don admits that Helen usually runs the show – even after recently beating cancer.

“Her doctor told her that her good physical health made her a candidate for a certain type of cancer treatment when she otherwise would not have been,” he said.

Don’s senior fitness class meets with Butch Campbell’s fitness class for traditional students which allows the vastly different age groups to work out together.

“You don’t get any discipline problems,” Don said. “It becomes an incredibly personal friendship with everybody.”

Butch said Don watches over the seniors like a hawk, ensuring they don’t hurt themselves, and his own students keep an eye on their elderly classmates.

The younger students are often embarrassed by how strong the seniors are, he added.
“The goal from the beginning has always been for them to have decisive independence,” Don said. “I’m fortunate to get to help them.”

The Senior Fitness class is provided through LSCO Community and Workforce Education. For information or to sign up, call 409-882-3321.