Seniors take to the water for fitness; a bonus is social hour

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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ALAMEDA, Calif. Barbara Romero, 81, is usually the first one in the pool, decked out in a black suit with pink polka dots. Im the one who warms up the water for everybody, she says.

ALAMEDA, Calif. Barbara Romero, 81, is usually the first one in the pool, decked out in a black suit with pink polka dots. Im the one who warms up the water for everybody, she says.

Soon, more than a dozen more senior women join her for a thrice-weekly gab fest and aqua fitness class that has a history stretching back two decades.

Doot, doot, doot, doot, lets get together for a minute, calls the longtime leader, Arlene Palumbo, declining to give her age.

Cross that leg. Back, nine and 10, 11, 12, she instructs.

Some in the class hold lane ropes during the workout. Others the side of the pool or a floating dumbbell.

The doctor wants you to get exercise, said Adrienne Longley-Cook, 62. We dont overdo it.

The class at the Mariner Square Athletic Club, a modest gym in the San Francisco suburbs, is about more than staying fit. The women and a couple of men offer each other both laughs and support through illness, the death of spouses and other life trials.

Of the clubs estimated 3,000 members, 656 are 62 years or older, and 76 are over the age of 80. In the class, the oldest participant is 101, although she doesnt come as often as she used to.

Longley-Cook is one of the groups institutions. Shes been a participant for four years, recently rejoining after a fall last year.

When I came back, all I could do was walk back and forth, she says. Do what you can, thats the key.

Palumbo hopes the Beijing Olympics will encourage more seniors to take on active lifestyles. And the clubs general manager, Diana Thomas, wants to take the swim groups enthusiasm a step further by pairing some of them out of the pool with youngsters interested in learning more about lifelong healthy habits.

Fitness is a lifestyle, like brushing your teeth, Thomas says, noting that aqua fitness for seniors has caught on around the world. The emotional factor is equally as beneficial as the physical activity.

Palumbo didnt learn to swim until she was a young adult and newly married to her late husband, Anthony. He was stationed in the Philippines for the navy in the 1950s and she knew shed better learn to like the water. Soon, she was certified as an instructor and teaching other members of military families.

Ive been at this business for a long time. Im a beautician by trade, she says, quickly turning the attention to her students. Theyre pretty faithful. Theyre very dedicated to the club, which makes me happy.

Beverly Nason, 70, has just returned from back surgery. Shes seven months out from the operation and thrilled to be in the water among friends.

Dee Berry, 81, had complete hip replacement surgery two years ago. She has lost more than 10 pounds without dieting since joining the group a few months ago.

Its good therapy, she says.

Palumbo passes out email and address lists so all can keep in touch away from the club. Some in the class eat out together regularly and join in on vacations.

Shirley McKnight, 71, is dressed to the nines. Her multicoloured suit, a mix of leopard print and bright pink, matches her pink and yellow pool shoes and the pink highlights in her black hair. Not to mention her bright lipstick.

McKnight is one of the longest-tenured members of the class at 16 1/2 years.

I love exercise, period, she says. This is the last class I do. I do an aerobics class on land before I get here. Im in here five days a week.

Once theyre through, many move into the nearby whirlpool and continue socializing.

Thats what makes it all worthwhile, says Nancy Adams, who is nearly 80. Its a wonderful group because everybodys here for the same purpose.

Organizations: Mariner Square Athletic Club, Beijing Olympics

Geographic location: San Francisco, Philippines

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