Love Towers Seniors exercise onto national stage

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A group of Knoxville seniors and their resident-led exercise program has been featured on the National Institute on Aging website

This past month, 13 active seniors at Guy B. Love Towers exercised their way onto the National Institute on Aging’s national website as poster children for a national senior health and fitness initiative, Go4Life.

Throughout 2012, the “Love Morning Exercise” group has met every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-9:30 a.m. to groove to some oldies and get active. The group classes feature endurance, strength, balance and flexibility exercises especially geared towards seniors over the age of 50. Each class is held in the social hall of Love Towers, an affordable housing development of Knoxville’s Community Development Corporation. 

Rita Schwartz, an eight-year Love Towers resident and retired social worker, founded the group a year ago after she was diagnosed with cancer. Schwartz had always been active, but she knew she needed to build her strength to fight the disease.

“When I found out I had cancer last fall, I knew I needed to be as strong and as healthy as I could be,” said Schwartz. “And I knew there were people at Love Towers who needed the exercise as much as I did.”

After receiving approval from Love Towers management to begin the class, she purchased some weights and resistance bands from Wal-Mart and put the class on the Love Towers public calendar. The first week she had four people; the next week she had six. Today, she has 13 regular members that come three days a week.

With little formal training, Schwartz adapted the original program from a gentle joints exercise training course for arthritis. All the exercises can be done from a wheel chair walker.

“It’s wonderful that the residents can be involved in exercise that isn’t intimidating,” said Steve Ellis, KCDC senior asset manager at Love Towers.  “It’s for exercise, but it’s a very social group. It’s good for the mind as well as the body.”

Schwartz has always been good at finding contributions for the projects she takes on around Love Towers, and when she ran across a bookmark advertising free exercise books and videos through the National Institute on Aging, she snapped up the chance.

Three days after sending in a request, she received the Go4Life packet with materials encouraging seniors to get active, eat right and socialize to be healthy in mind, body and spirit.

With only 25 percent of seniors age 65-74 engaging in regular physical activity, Go4Life is an important national initiative that encourages seniors to begin an exercise regimen for the first time, return to exercise after a break or increase their weekly activity. Schwartz said the Go4Life materials have given the Love Towers group cohesiveness and team camaraderie.

“I don’t think any of my folks had exercised before,” said Schwartz. “This is their first time to be in any real organized exercise class, and they love it!”

The dedicated seniors can’t wait to get moving in the morning. They often arrive early for the class to listen to music, dance and enjoy the social aspect of the group. “It’s just a little party in there,” said Schwartz. “We have the ‘50s and ‘60s music, and we put it as loud as we can.”

In addition to the fun atmosphere, many of the seniors have seen dramatic health benefits from the class. Some of these testimonials are featured on the Institute on Aging’s website.

Jo Ann Leach is 62 years old, but severe back pain caused her to act much older. When she first started coming to the class, she could barely walk and spent her time bent over a walker. After a year of exercise, Leach no longer needs her walker and rarely uses her cane. Schwartz has actually trained her to lead the class.

“She’s my biggest success story,” Schwartz said.

Another success story featured on the website is Fred Page. He has been coming to the classes since May. He has a pacemaker and has had multiple open heart surgeries. After a few months as a part of the “Love Morning Exercise” group, his doctor saw significant improvement in his blood pressure and heart rate. Page has also been trained to teach the class.

Even Schwartz herself has seen the benefits of the group. Her cancer is currently in remission.

“When I found out I had cancer, I decided I was going to do everything I could to get strong,” said Schwartz. “I started this group for myself, but it’s turned out to be great organized community fun!”

Schwartz said the “Love Morning Exercise” group has enjoyed the attention that comes with being featured on a national website. The Love Towers exercise group proudly wears their team shirts around the complex.

“Because we were able to get the national attention, they feel like stars,” Schwartz said. “I love that they feel like stars.”

KCDC is the housing authority and redevelopment agency for Knoxville. Since 1936, KCDC has been dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of Knoxville. For more information, visit www.kcdc.org.

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