An 82-year-old woman, diabetic for 20 years, admitted to the class with insulin resistance. A 72-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease says his balance has improved. Others say they have avoided knee surgery, kept osteoporosis at bay, or stopped taking steroids for back pain.
Thanks to the class, Bonnie Resig said, she feels as good at 75 as she did as a cheerleader in high school.
“I don’t know if I can do the flip again,” she said. “But I can move and groove.”
Exercise is good for you, as everyone – including those who live under a rock or just came from Mars – knows by now. Especially for parents. Many studies show that physical activity can help protect against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia and some types of cancer. This is associated with better mental health and quality of life.
The only hard part is, actually, doing it.
That’s why Anne Tudor’s ForeverWell classes for seniors at the Ridgedale YMCA in Minnetonka are so popular. Participants, ranging in age from their 60s to mid-80s, said the instructors were engaging.
“Anne is my inspiration – you want to go, go, go when she does it,” said Don “Punch” Benson. After stent placement 30 years ago, Benson started taking fitness classes. Today he runs a hobby farm. “If I didn’t do this class, I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I did at 80.”
Slim and 75, Tudor is a great advertisement for the benefits of physical activity. He often calls exercise “medicine.”
“I’ve seen the results and I’ve seen the health issues,” Tudor said. citizens of Wayzata. “People get stronger, people get better posture.”
But for Tudor’s instructions, many of the participants said that it appeared.
“I love his sense of humor, he just makes my day,” said Sharon Rescorla, 71, who has osteoporosis. “It has prevented my numbers from getting worse.”
“I schedule my life around Annie,” said Sandy Harvey, 68. “She’s my sports goddess.”
Pull the highest
In one of Tudor’s classes about a week ago, more than 50 people filled the gym, moving steadily to music ranging from the 1920s standard “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” for Van Morrison’s 1967 “Brown Eyed Girl.”
Her class draws more participants than any other Y group class for any age, Y ForeverWell coordinator Molly Skoro said. Before COVID, attendance ranged from 70 to 100 and “parking was a problem,” he said.
The Y tried to solve the problem by scheduling a second ForeverWell class with a different instructor. It doesn’t work – people keep going to Tudor classes.
“People come from New Hope Y and Southdale Y because they hear he’s a great instructor,” Skoro said. “People tell me they actually set alarms on their phones so they know to sign up so they can get in.”
In class, Tudor stands at the front of the group, calling out instructions: “Two steps to the left! Two steps to the right! Work the inside of your leg! Strengthen the middle! Kick that leg! Go up on your toes again!”
He did all the moves (in reverse, acting as a mirror image for the class) with more vigor than most – legs kicking higher, arms swinging more, punching the air. He delivers a running monologue that some people enjoy more because he’s from England.
“Sometimes I’ll say, ‘Can we have an interpreter?’ because no one knows me,” Tudor joked. “I don’t stop talking to them. I’m constantly telling them and reminding them, ‘How’s your posture? Are you pulling your abs? How are your legs feeling? Relax – if you’re not comfortable doing the movement, don’t’ Don’t do it, just walk and smile.'”
Most of the student’s movements are smaller than Tudor’s, shorter steps, lower kicks, weaker arms. But aside from a quick water break, they continue to move through hours of warmup, aerobics, weightlifting, balance and stretching.
“They’re tough,” said Julie Appel Duncan, a ForeverWell coordinator who helps with the class. “It can be a challenge.”
It’s hard work, agrees Jane Laurance, 82. “But you don’t watch the clock.”
More than a third of people over the age of 65 get no physical activity, the highest percentage of any age group. Aging causes loss of muscle strength, weight gain, aches and pains and diseases that make movement more difficult. But fitness can improve at any age.
“So many people think, ‘Oh, I’m at the limit, I’ll never progress in strength or balance; I’ll always be in pain,'” Skoro said. But Tudor helped build students’ confidence, he said. “He believed in everyone, and because he believed in them, he believed that he could do the same.”
“I always tell you that age is just a number and you do what you can,” Tudor said. “If you don’t want to get high, take it slow. Listen to yourself.”
The Tudor class includes some places where you will hear people competing to sound old. “I’m 82 – and a half,” said the woman. “I’m 83, almost 84,” said another. “I’ll be 83 before he’s 84,” said the first.
Hans Gasterland gives his age as “69, almost 70” and then admits his birthday is not until February.
“I have adopted 70 as my identity,” he said cheerfully.
Participants who value happiness in the classroom may not realize that Tudor says they need it that way.
“My life has been very difficult lately,” he said. “It just lifted my spirits.”
Tudor’s husband, John Tudor, a former professional footballer in England, has dementia and cannot be left alone. Three mornings a week her son, Jonathan, drives from Belle Plaine to relieve her so she can teach classes. But he is also a busy football coach. So the rest of Tudor’s time was spent as John’s nanny.
The couple moved to Minnesota nearly 30 years ago so John could coach. Tudor works as an apartment building caretaker. Having always loved sports – “I was the girl champion at my school,” she says – she took fitness classes. Eventually he had the idea to start teaching on his own. He qualified and became an instructor around 2004.
Many Tudor students started in the year after that and have made friends. They gather for coffee, celebrate birthdays, meet for happy hour.
“The social aspect is very healthy as you get older – it can get lonely when you’re alone,” said Eunice Schutt, 70, a longtime resident.
“It’s great to see how they take care of each other,” Skoro said.
“I really hate missing class,” Schutt said. “We all left with smiles on our faces and were so glad we came.”