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South Portland fitness program for seniors fills void left by USM budget cuts

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South Portland fitness program for seniors fills void left by USM budget cuts

SOUTH PORTLAND — When the University of Southern Maine cut its Lifeline program earlier this spring, about 100 senior citizens were left without services they had depended on for years.

But Lifeline, a fitness program geared towards people 60 or older, has been given a second life as Fit to Live, which meets three times a week in South Porland's Redbank Community Center.

Fit to Live is offered through the South Portland Parks and Recreation Department. Classes are lead by Patty Medina, who was a Lifeline instructor for 28 years.

On Monday, as swing music played from a portable radio, the class put on ankle weights and began seated excercises, after some light stretching and joint-loosening exercises. A more energetic mix of music played as the seniors got out of their chairs for standing excerices.

"Six and seven and don't forget to breath," Medina instructed the class.

After some full-body aerobic activity, the class returned to seats for cool-down excercises, which included drills aimed at better balance to soothing new-age music.

Balance and flexibility are major components of the routine, Medina said, which follows American College of Sports Medicine protocols.

"Now, they tell me they don't fall down on the ice as much," she said.

Medina said she was compelled to find a facility that could accomodate the program, not only because she has devoted 28 years to teaching the Lifeline class, but for the important role it plays in the lives of seniors, many of whom said it gives their lives structure. 

"I love working with this population," said Medina, a tri-athelete who also teaching fitness to younger people. "It's my passion. They're interested, they're dedicated and they never miss (a class)."

While Medina provides continuity for the seniors by leading the Fit to Live classes, the group still suffers a shortage of equipment. A recent fundraiser has allowed the group to buy hand and leg weights and a stationary bike. A second bike was also recently donated.

Although many former Lifeline members joined a private gym, others found the private facility too small.

One of those people was Yarmouth resident Elenor Clemons, who has grown accustomed to walking laps in the gym, rather than in the clutches of winter's cold. 

"Without this, I don't think I would be able to do it," said Clemons. "That wind can be very, very cold."

For Clemons and some other Fit to Live members, the end of Lifeline was not the first time they were displaced by university budget cuts. Clemons said she joined Lifeline after the demise of Heartline, a program geared towards heart patients.

Cape Elizabeth resident Steve Simonds also started out attending the USM Heartline program. After Lifeline was cut, Simonds said he missed more than just the physical excercise, which he gets mostly by peddling the stationary bike. 

"It's for socializing, too," Simonds said, noting that he and a fellow veteran often trade war stories while they work out. "It keeps you company and lets you know how your friends are doing."

Medina said the social aspect of the class is probably the most important. To strengthen that sense of community, she announced that the fitness class will be having a potluck holiday party on Monday.

"It was her interest and zeal that got this going here," Simonds said. "And we're glad she did."

Fit to Live classed are held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10:30-11:25 a.m. at the Redbank Community Center. Monthly sessions range from $32 to $36; drop-in rates are $5 a class.

To register, contact the South Portland Community Center, 21 Nelson Road, at 767-7650.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

 

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Photo:

Instructor Patty Medina, who worked for USM's Lifeline program for 28 years before it was cut from the university budget, leads seniors Monday morning at the Redbank Community Center in a new program, Fit to Live, offered through the South Portland Recreation Department.