Instructor Anne Cooke leads her online Stay Fit class last week via Zoom. VOICE

It turns out that exercising by Zoom takes some real effort

Ouch. My preconceived notions took a serious hit during Anne Cooke’s online Stay Fit seniors’ fitness class. I learned that it takes a whole lot more co-ordination to do this routine than ride a bike. Remove artwork from walls and coffee tables, push the flatscreen TV away, and get anything breakable out of the room before you start. Big potatoes or a can of tomatoes can replace barbells in a virtual workout—and, if you concentrate on the exercises, it is possible to survive all three minutes and 18 seconds of Abba’s “S.O.S.”

I also learned that any instructor who uses Jan and Dean’s “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” with its “Go Granny, Go” chorus as music for a seniors’ fitness class has a tremendous sense of humour, understands the power of subliminal messaging, or stridently loves her students—and that 50-plus years after my high school prom, I still have the dancing skills of concrete garden gnome.

Anne Cooke, of Miracles in Motion Fitness in Pelham, offers free Stay Fit seniors classes at the Meridian Community Centre and the Royal Canadian Legion in Fonthill. Both facilities donate their space, and she is supported by Centre de sante Hamilton/Niagara, a non-profit community health centre. When COVID-19 hit, and the province closed classes like Cooke’s to enforce social distancing, she went virtual to continue providing Stay Fit for her 120 students. Just three weeks in, the online classes are attracting approximately 30 participants per session.

My interest in attending was to experience Zoom technology applied to fitness classes, and to participate in my first-ever “senior” fitness class.

The technology worked great. Everyone introduced themselves as they Zoomed into the class and shared what they’d been up to since their last meeting, including a steamy evening of virtual line dancing for one couple. Cooke provided words of encouragement while assisting anyone requiring help with the technology, and everyone was excited to begin.

Instructor Anne Cooke dances to the music. VOICE

Participating in Stay Fit was an eye-opener. Cooke has multiple accreditations in fitness training, and was recognized by Toronto Life magazine as a, “Best Personal Trainer in Toronto.” She is currently associated with Western University’s Canadian Centre for Activity & Aging, and explains that trainers need to understand teaching senior fitness is different.

Cooke first thought, “I teach fitness already, so I just have to go slower for older adults.”

She learned there was much more to it.

“Fitness for seniors is not about what the younger body can do. Because we have a tsunami of seniors coming, I find people taking what I’m doing, and senior fitness, a little more seriously.”

Cooke said there are many individuals that are sedentary for different reasons, possibly due to physical limitations, or a lack of motivation.

“About 20% of the senior population will get themselves moving on something, but 80% really need a push.”

The age Stay Fit reaches is primarily between 60 and 80, although the class at the Legion includes an 88 and a 94-year-old woman. The only criteria for joining a class is the ability to stay standing for 30 minutes, but you are allowed to sit down sometimes too.

When developing a program, Cooke said, “There’s minimal screening, so I have to pick a mean to keep them interested and that’s doable, then dial it up or down.”

This low threshold is attractive for some. Wendy Young, of Fonthill, joined Stay Fit at the community centre. She has existing bio-mechanical issues, and traditional gyms were making them worse. In her words, “I wanted something where I didn’t have to push it. Stay Fit ticked off all the boxes. I’m getting the exercise but not overdoing it.”

Wendy Young. VOICE

Young loves her virtual workouts.

“You can just let yourself go, who cares. It’s so much fun.”

Time to begin our virtual class. Cooke’s pet phrases of encouragement remain in the back of my mind: “Are you agile or are you fragile,” and, “Judge a man by what he takes two of—pills or stairs.”

We dance and exercise to “S.O.S.” by Abba, then “Twisting the Night Away,” Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” “Flip Flop and Fly,” and “La Isla Bonita” by Madonna. It’s one thing to sit in your SUV with the windows down and the radio cranked, singing along like a bobble-head doll, but doing dance exercises to these five songs non-stop is a totally different matter.

Stay Fit seniors 1, supposedly fit guy nil.

This segment of the class was followed by stretches and mobility exercises, and it quickly became evident that Cooke had chosen the movements so that each participant could apply themselves in a manner suitable to their personal strength, mobility and balance level. Flat-footed or on tiptoes, sitting or standing, holding a chair back for balance or not, everyone performed the routine in a manner that was comfortable for them.

After a short break, there were exercises with optional weights and lots of stretching and core work, including Pilates-style exercises to make students “Familiar with the floor,” said Cooke, alluding to fall prevention studies.

“People who are familiar with the floor are a lot less likely to panic when they find themselves on the floor.”

Stay Fit seniors score another one in this segment. Since I don’t know what to expect, I choose weights that will look impressive on Zoom but are too heavy. I also didn’t wear my heart rate monitor. A rising body temperature soon tells me it’s time to slink off camera for a rest and rethink of this side-to-side twisting and stretching stuff. Apparently my cycling muscles are unidirectional, and only provide strength in a vertical plane. Perhaps it’s time to expand my exercise repertoire.

If you’re 55-plus and interested in joining the fun and increasing your fitness via these free online classes, contact Anne Cooke at the Centre de sante and leave a message at 905-734-1141, or email her at cschn@cschn.ca.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on climbing stairs two at a time. Judgment Day is approaching.