Fitness at Any Age

We’re all getting older, and there’s no way to stop it from happening. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. With the right regimen of fitness, diet, vitamins, and other healthy choices, it’s possible to stay active no matter your age.

We talked with local doctors, fitness instructors, and pharmacists, along with a 57-year-old man who’s found a passion for Zumba®. And it’s clear that with the right knowledge and commitment, age is no barrier to healthy living.

Man Enough to Zumba

Three local men learn to dance for fitness
By Katelyn Phillips

Every workday afternoon, Evansville resident John Harper keeps a close eye on his clock as it ticks toward 4:30. But the Downtown businessman isn’t stressed out or hungry for dinner; he’s ready for Zumba.

At 57 years old, Harper can proudly say he can out-dance his 25-year-old daughter and anyone else who’d like to challenge him on the dance floor.

Harper was convinced to take on the popular dance exercise craze when his daughter failed to persuade any of her 20-something girlfriends to join her.

“We went to Heidi Garza Dance Studio and had no idea what we were doing,” jokes Harper. “We probably looked ridiculous, but we didn’t care. No one was watching us or judging us, so we had a lot of fun.”

That was two years ago. Now, there are two other men who can call themselves regulars at the dance studio, Marvin Byrer, 53, and Rick Ewers, 60.

“It was challenging to come back the second time. But if you can do that, I encourage you to keep coming,” says Byrer. “I was interested in learning as much Latin dancing as I could. It’s been the healthiest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve had lots of hobbies, but this has been the most enjoyable.”

Zumba Fitness® is a global lifestyle brand that blends fitness, entertainment, and culture into a thrilling dance-fitness party. Zumba was brought to the U.S. in 1999 by Alberto “Beto” Perez. He invented the workout as a 16-year-old aerobics instructor in his native Colombia when he forgot the music for a class and used an eclectic mixed tape instead. When he saw how much his students loved it, he and his American business partners launched Zumba Fitness® in the U.S.

Born in Monterry, Mexico, Heidi Garza, 35, began teaching Zumba in 2007 when she moved to Evansville. She teaches one to two hour-long classes a week and finds that motivating her students to lead healthier lives pushes her to do the same.

“I have kids from 8 to 9 years old and there are older students 50 to 60 years old,” says Garza. “Everyone can do it. Some people say ‘No, I can’t dance, I can’t do it’ but how do you know if you don’t try? You might leave class saying ‘Oh, I didn’t know I could move my body like that!’”

Garza began teaching dance in Evansville to share her love for dance and bring a little part of her culture to the community. The added benefit of losing weight also helps. She teaches her students every day that Zumba is not only “exercise in disguise” but it has proven to be an effective social outlet for those wanting to meet new people. It will increase confidence, and some students have seen their health benefit in other ways.

Harper’s dependence on medication has been reduced since he began dancing. His blood sugar counts are down and his doctor says he’s in better shape now than he was 10 years ago. Byrer and Ewers have seen similar results as regular Zumba students.

“I’ve been cut down from three diabetic pills a day to just one,” says Ewers. “It’s amazing to see results like that when you’re dancing an hour a day.”
“After being in Heidi’s class for three years, I no longer have to take my blood pressure medicine. It’s changed me, it keeps me young,” says Byrer. “It’s healthy to be part of a supportive group, and that is something we have here.”

Their advice for those 50 and up looking for a good workout? Get over your fears and “man up.” No one is going to judge you. Regardless of age or gender, come at least one time to see if it’s for you. Your inner dancer might show you a thing or two.

To learn more about Heidi Garza Dance Studio, call 812-305-9105 or visit its Facebook page.

Shape Up

Some things people past their 50s should know when they go to the gym  By Celeste Zuber

Age is just a number. And hitting the gym isn’t limited to bodybuilders and fitness fanatics. As Baby Boomers move into their 50s and 60s, many of them are working out at the gym with health and fitness goals just like everyone else.

Christen Mitchell, the senior wellness director for the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, has seen many people from the Baby Boomer generation working out at the YMCA. She says the key is to start slow and work from there.

“Commit to an exercise schedule for three to four weeks so that it becomes a habit, stay motivated by focusing on short term goals, consider preexisting health concerns, get involved, and keep it fun,” says Mitchell. “The important thing is to keep it fun. Make exercise a part of your day.”

Going to the gym does not have to be a daunting task. There are plenty of options when it comes to working out — personal trainers, group classes, and workout routines that involve strength training or cardio or both.

The YMCA offers various classes targeted to older adults — although any age can participate. Chair yoga, mat yoga, Pilates, Zumba, Silver Sneakers classes, and water aerobics all provide a low-impact workout. Classes like Silver Sneakers are designed specifically for older adults and focus on safe, functional movements they can use in daily life.

“An active lifestyle is more important than ever as you age,” says Mitchell. “Regular physical activity can help boost your energy, maintain your independence, and manage symptoms of illness or pain. Exercise is not only good for your body, it’s also good for your mind, mood, and memory, and can help to improve your sleep.”

Mitchell also recommends a mix of land and water when it comes to working out.

“We encourage cross-training to help to prevent overuse injuries as well as to get the most out of your workouts and prevent muscle memory,” she says.

For more information about the YMCA and group classes, call 812-426-6210 or visit

Ready to Run

Alter-G treadmill is designed for nontraditional runners  By Erin Miller

Running used to be a sport reserved for those in the best of shape. The Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill has radically changed that idea. Now, people at any age with stress fractures, weight loss goals, or those in need of physical therapy rehabilitation can run without the entire resistance of gravity.

One of seven locations in the Tri-State that offers the machine, Gilkey Chiropractic Clinic in Newburgh, Indiana, allows patients to push past the normal limits of their physical rehabilitation and exercise routines by using the Alter-G. The machine is similar to a standard treadmill with a looped belt that simulates running. Users step into a compartment that pulls up to waist level and zips together with specially provided shorts to create suction.

“You stand on the machine with your arms across your chest, and it calibrates your weight as you stand still,” says Lindsey Betz, an exercise therapist at Gilkey Chiropractic Clinic. “It starts at 100 percent of your weight and then you decrease by 10, 20, or more percent. Then what’s showing is the weight that’s still on your body.”

That decrease in weight allows patients to run faster and with less force on their joints. Users experience a bounce or floating sensation but have to run at a slightly faster pace than when using a regular treadmill to get the same weight loss or exercise benefits.

Most of the clinic’s patients using the Alter-G are over the age of 40. Since getting the treadmill June 9, Betz recommends the machine but cautions that the effects are still felt the next day.

“As long as you’re not going on it thinking you can run forever, at a 6-minute mile pace when you normally run at eight, because you’re going above your normal limits and will be pretty sore,” says Betz.

“But because they usually can’t walk or run very much at all, it’s still a large benefit.”

The treadmill is open to patients and non-patients by appointment.

For more information about the Alter-G anti-gravity treadmill, call the Gilkey Chiropractic Clinic at 812-853-2997 or visit

Talk to Your Doctor

Knowing what to ask can help keep you healthy  By Jessica Able

A patient’s medical needs and questions evolve as a person gets older. Knowing what to ask a doctor is vital to healthy aging.

The need to have open, honest communication with your health care provider is essential, says Carolyn Conners, the vice president of social services for Southwestern Indiana Regional Council on Aging (SWIRCA & More).

“If possible, talk about future plans before a crisis occurs,” says Conners. “It is very important to plan for aging. Make a list of important papers such as social security and insurance information. Let family or a friend know where the list is.”

Organization is key. Before you even visit your doctor, gather your medical information such as medication lists, recent diagnoses, and treatments.
“Make notations in the personal health care record of what questions you have for your doctor,” says Conners.

Do some quick research about any health care issues or recent diagnoses. Inquire about diet, medication side effects, and what each medication is for.

“Be sure that you know what the ‘red flags’ are for any diagnosis you may have,” says Conners. “Many people are timid about asking questions of their doctors. Ask if you don’t understand; become your own health advocate. Make sure that you know what each medication is for and any potential side effects.”

It’s also a good idea to take someone along to the doctor’s visit, such as a family member, says Conners, to make sure information is understood. This is especially important if there are any hearing or cognitive issues.

As people age, they also must consider the various options for insurance such as Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and medication supplement plans. Insurance is a very complex and important issue, says Conners, noting that SWIRCA & More will assist all age groups with unbiased and free insurance assistance and enrollments.

“Knowing what their options are can be a maze and that is one of the things SWIRCA can help with,” says Conners.

It’s also a good idea for Medicare Part D recipients to review their plans each year during the open enrollment to ensure they are on the best plan for the medications they take.

For more information about SWIRCA & More, visit

You Are What You Eat

A balanced and nutritious diet provides a powerful energy source  By Erin Miller

Good nutrition is difficult to master at any stage in life, but it becomes even more important to maintain as the body ages.

“For those 45 years of age or older, the risk does go up (for diabetes),” says Carol Dixon, senior manager and mission delivery at the American Diabetes Association Indianapolis office. “The pancreas starts to get a little tired, and starts to produce less insulin.”

Insulin regulates the amount of glucose (natural sugar) in the blood and the metabolism of carbohydrates and fat in the body. Cells use glucose as a source of energy, but too much or too little regulation results in unstable blood sugar levels, and ultimately to health problems like Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.

Prevention and treatment primarily starts with healthy nutrition.

“It’s going to be all about portion control and following the plate guidelines,” says Dixon. “Half your plate should be low carb, non-starchy vegetables. The size of the palm in your hand should be protein or meat, and another quarter (of the plate) could be carbs such as bread or fruit.”

Kathy Dunn, 53, and her husband Gary Dunn, 55, lost 65 and 50 pounds, respectively, by working with the Diet Doc in Evansville, watching food proportions, and being mindful of what foods they ate.

“We had gotten married in 2007, and by January 2012, like it happens through the years, we had gained weight,” says Kathy, Warrick Plant Administrator at Alcoa Warrick Operations. “We knew we had to change, because what we were doing wasn’t working. So we went to see Kori (Propst at the Diet Doc) and the rest is history. Gary and I were a team. We started tracking our food and working out regularly.”

The Dunns were given nutritional guidelines to aim for each day, along with information on correct portion amounts and the importance of combining physical activity with healthy eating. While actively trying to lose weight, the couple planned each meal but allotted themselves one relaxed meal per week, usually to enjoy a restaurant.

“I’ve always been a cook, so I was worried about that,” says Kathy. “But I still do cook, but the recipes are healthier, using olive oil, whole grain pasta, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, and the portion sizes are just smaller. And nothing is forbidden. I don’t find myself with a bag of chips, but I might have a handful for a treat and they are probably baked.”

Kathy credits willpower to her and her husband’s success, and health benefits as the motivation for maintaining the weight loss.

“There’s something to be said about not having to worry about a pair of pants being too small,” says Kathy. “We have tons of energy, and can run circles now around people who aren’t as healthy. We wish we had done this sooner.”

For more information about the American Diabetes Association, call the Indianapolis office at 317-352-9226 or visit

Supplements for Seniors

Three common nutrients are less absorbed with age  By Katelyn Phillips

As we age, our bodies change. While the Federal Government’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises that it’s best to get our nutrients from food, some people don’t naturally absorb enough. For those people, vitamins and supplements can help with things like anti-aging and hormone balance. Let’s whittle down the list to the most needed nutrients and how to get enough.

Vitamin B12
B12 deficiency can cause problems with balance, numbness, and confusion. It’s common for older adults to be unable to absorb B12 from foods as they age, so even if your diet contains enough, you might still be falling short.
What to Eat: Fish, clams, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and dairy products.
What to Take: Daily multivitamin, but check the supplement facts label to determine the amount provided.

Vitamin D
This supplement can help absorb calcium that is needed to prevent the loss of bone density.
What to Eat: Fatty fish and dairy products.
What to Take: Supplements containing D2 (erocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Although most associate fish oil with heart disease prevention, low consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil, also has been linked to hearing loss in seniors.
What to Eat: Walnuts, tofu, flaxseeds, beans, fish, and olive oil.
What to Take: Supplements containing EPA, ALA, or DHA.

If you tend to steer clear of any of the foods discussed here, you should talk to your health care providers about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements, and what may be best for your overall health.

Source: National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements

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