“You can do this. It’s just like last week but a little more weight,” encourages trainer Karen Colombo. “I have no doubt you can do this.” It’s a testament of wills, which happens at every new session of Young at Heart at the North Suburban YMCA. And yet each session, participants find new strength, endurance, and friendships, transforming doubt into excitement. Colombo explains, “Everyone gives me resistance at first. But with some patience and trust developed among the group, we can get them moving. No question.”
The Young at Heart program, which began last year, offers seniors a chance to not only work on their heart’s cardiac capacity, but also to increase flexibility and improve balance. The bi-weekly sessions begin with a cardio warm up on the North Suburban Y’s fitness floor. “The adaptive cardio machines have changed everything. They allow for people in wheelchairs to pull right up to the equipment. It also gives me time to set up the circuit training,” explained Colombo. Although a professional trainer for over a decade, it’s not an easy task for Colombo to set up the circuit. Each participant gets special one-on-one attention with machines set exactly to the weight and range of motion a participant can tolerate. “It’s a challenge to meet all of their needs, but it ensures safety too. I can rest assured they’re not going to push themselves too far.” 76-year-old Woburn native Donald Doyle explains, “We work as a group but it feels like personal training. She (Colombo) sees our gains and increases our reps at a safe pace.” Following the circuit, the participants enjoy a guided cool down stretch.
Joan Daderick, 76, joined the program after her bi-lateral knee replacement physical therapy ran out. Rehabilitating her second shoulder, hip and two knee replacements, Daderick wanted to work closely with a professional to continue her rehab. “Karen (Colombo) is very cognizant of when we have a sore this or a tired that. This program has made me more mobile and I know that if I stop at my age, I’ll stiffen up.”
But it’s actually off of the machines that the real heart workout begins. “I started noticing that if someone was absent from class, the others would ask me where she was and if she was ok. It was obvious that they were bonding.” Karen also noticed that the participants were sharing stories about grandchildren, trips, and offering advice. “They also love hearing stories, especially about the kids at camp here at the Y.” Doyle added, “I like giving the other participants nicknames and we definitely chat it up. At our age we all need exercise, but it’s nice that we get to meet people too.”
When asked about her favorite part about the program, Colombo responded, “They have so much knowledge and tons of stories. If we all stopped to listen to our seniors once in awhile, we’d learn a lot. I certainly have.”