Editor's note: The Area 1 Agency on Aging commissions freelance writer Carol Harrison to produce Gray Matters every two weeks.

Medline Plus calls exercise the fountain of youth, but some older Americans don't know where to begin and others need convincing.

That's why Area 1 Agency on Aging is partnering with local fitness experts and clubs during Older Americans Month in May. Expert Fitness for Women, Life Fitness and Fred Endert Municipal Swimming Pool are offering seniors some free orientation and training classes.

"If you've wanted to try Pilates or tai chi; if you've been thinking

it's time to embrace strength training or check out better balance

classes; if yoga or aqua aerobics are calling to you - May is your

chance," said Todd Metcalf, director of programs at A1AA.

Following are the details of each Crescent City offer:

andbull; First-time visitors age 55 and older can arrange for a one-week

pass at Express Fitness for Women at 700 Northcrest Drive near Home

Depot. Call Anita at 465-1806 or come in to set it up for a week. Try

yoga Pilates, Zumba or a circuit class.

andbull; Life Fitness is offering a one-week pass any time in May to those

age 65 and older. Call 465-3070 or drop by 520 Wilson, behind the

Shopsmart, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to

noon on Friday.

andbull; The municipal pool at 1000 Play Street is offering a one-time pass

for one class for those 60 and older. Classes include water aerobics,

stretch and tone, aqua jogging, water walking, lap swim or public

swim. Contact Brooke or Matt for the schedule, 464-9503.

For Del Norte County seniors who are regularly in Humboldt County,

drop by the A1AA office at 434 Seventh Street in Eureka to pick up a

three-day May pass to HealthSPORT in Arcata, Eureka, Fortuna or

McKinleyville (healthsport.

com) or Cal Courts in Eureka or Cutten (445-5445). One pass per person age 60 and older and passes must be picked up from A1AA.

Another option: Arcata Core Pilates at 930 Samoa Blvd. for an 11 a.m.

class on Tuesdays geared exclusively to seniors. Call 845-8156 for


For more information, call A1AA at 707-464-7876, drop by 1765

Northcrest Drive in Crescent City or call one of the fitness centers

listed above. A1AA is also a referral agency for STRONG fitness programs

offered year-round throughout Humboldt and Del Norte counties.

According to the National Institutes of Health, regular exercise and

physical activity help people stay strong and fit enough to perform

daily activities, get around and maintain independence.

Physical activity refers to body movements associated with tasks such

as gardening, vacuuming, walking the dog or taking the stairs instead

of the elevator. Exercise is a planned, structured and repetitive

physical activity such as weight training, Pilates, aerobics or


"Too many people don't know how to get started," Metcalf said.

"They're afraid exercise is too dangerous or worried they'll get hurt.

They don't realize exercise and physical activity help maintain or

partially restore the endurance, strength, balance and flexibility we

need to live well, longer and independently."

"It's much more than okay for older people to exercise," stated

Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, on the NIH

website. "However, a number of well-conducted, controlled studies have

shown that a variety of exercises are not only safe for older people but

have enormous advantage."

Inactive people are nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease

as those who are more active, the U.S. Surgeon General reports. Lack of

physical activity can also lead to more doctor visits, more

hospitalizations and more use of medicines for a variety of chronic


Exercise also helps prevent or delay many diseases and disabilities by lowering blood pressure or increasing bone density.

Some studies also suggest exercise reduces feelings of depression,

improves sleep, helps with stress management and improves cognitive

functions such as shifting quickly between tasks, planning, and ignoring

irrelevant information.

Endurance makes it easier to walk farther, faster and uphill, which

translates into making it easier to vacuum, work in the garden or rake


Strength training by lifting weights or using resistance bands

increases muscle strength and improves balance. Increased strength

helps people carry smaller grandchildren, climb stairs, carry groceries,

lift bags of yard clippings and open jars.

Balance exercises such as those in tai chi improve the ability to

maintain body position while moving or still. Good balance is essential

to preventing falls. Balance exercises can help people stand on tiptoe

to reach something on a top shelf, walk up and down stairs, and walk on

uneven ground.

Stretching helps the body stay flexible and limber, giving more

freedom and range of movement, the NIH reports. That helps people bend

over to tie shoes or pick up something on the floor, swing a golf club,

pull a sweater over head, make the bed, and look over a shoulder to see

what's behind the car a driver is backing a car down a driveway.

Stretching exercises improve flexibility, but will not improve endurance or strength.

"If you're already active, use May to try something new, to add some

variety to what you do," Metcalf said. "If you don't exercise, May is

the chance to start. It's never too late to start."

Reach Carol Harrison at