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Exercise instructor helps seniors to get moving

By Staff | Sep 22, 2017

Chronicle photo by Vanessa McGuigan Suzy Munnis, instructor and personal trainer at Shepherd Wellness Center, leads the SAIL group in balance exercises.

In the United States, falls are the leading cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among older people. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in three people aged 65 and older falls each year. Contributing factors include poor eyesight, fatigue, medication and lack of physical activity.

Suzy Munnis, certified exercise physiologist and trainer at Shepherd Wellness Center, was the special guest speaker at the monthly brown bag lunch for the Shepherdstown Area Independent Living (SAIL) group on Sept. 15. Munnis introduced the group to some simple balance and mindful movement exercises that can be done by virtually anyone, just using a chair for support.

She had participants begin very slowly by standing on one foot, using the back of a chair for balance if needed. Then she asked everyone to put both feet on the floor and slightly lean their body weight forward to their toes, then back to the whole foot. She increased the level of difficulty by simply having the group look over one shoulder, then the other while on their toes.

“You start to feel a little off balance,” Munnis said. “What has to happen neuro-muscularly is your brain has to tell those muscle groups in your legs to tighten to hold us up. Then a different set of muscle groups has to pull you back. It’s getting used to that feeling that if you’re falling forward, you can pull yourself back just by pulling your body weight back.”

The key to success is to repeat very simple, mindful movements slowly. Increasing repetition over time as strength and balance are improved.

Munnis teaches a free class every Friday from 11 a.m to noon at Shepherd called “Exercise as Medicine,” which does not require a membership at the Wellness Center to attend.

“I’ve been working with a lot of clients that are on a lot of medications or have limited incomes,” Munnis said. “It gets pretty expensive – when you consider all facets of your healthcare – when you add personal training and a wellness membership on top of that, it gets exponentially more expensive. I wanted to offer a class where people could come for free and benefit from it.”

According to Munnis, the majority of the class participates from a seated position. She incorporates the use of hand weights and a ball and looks to include resistance bands in subsequent classes.

“We work our fingers, shoulders, arms and then we stand and move our legs a little,” Munnis said. “We move our legs in our chairs, as well as our arms to introduce a cardiovascular component, some coordination, hand and eye coordination, then we do standing strength and balance.”

In order to prevent potentially dangerous falls, seniors should exercise regularly. Munnis quipped that “sitting is the new smoking.” In other words, seniors should do more standing and walking throughout the day, incorporating gentle balance and strengthening exercises as much as possible.