Aging Well: Dedicated instructors help older adults get fit

Fischer and Ritchie improving seniors’ strength, flexibility, mobility in local classes

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Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program classes are ongoing and open to anyone ages 50 and older. There is no cost to attend but donations are encouraged. Call 970-871-7676.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles about Aging Well fitness and wellness class instructors in Routt and Moffat counties. The series will continue monthly on the Aging Well page.

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Gena Fischer teaches the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program in Routt County.

Gena Fischer

Class: Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program

Where: Routt County

Gena Fischer didn’t think twice about becoming an Aging Well fitness instructor.

Having worked with homebound older adults, she understood the value of helping older individuals be healthy and stay independent.

That was four years ago. Since then, Fischer has worked with participants ranging in age from 50 to 100. She continues to see many of the same students in weekly classes held at The Haven Assisted Living Center in Hayden and the Steamboat Springs Community Center.

Fischer is a certified instructor of Arthritis Foundation Exercise, a gentle program developed to improve older adults’ strength and flexibility for less joint pain and better mobility.

Fischer also has taught Aging Well N’Balance, focused on reducing older adults’ risk of falls and injuries. She’ll be teaching a new class, Arthritis Foundation Walk with Ease, in spring. She also trains new instructors to lead Arthritis Foundation classes.

Fischer has seen major improvements among participants in her gentle exercise classes. Many started out using 1- to 2-pound weights and now use 5- to 8-pound weights, for example. They also are able to work out longer. One student, who was 100 at the time, even challenged Fischer to make the class harder.

Fischer’s classes also have been an important source of social connection for participants.

“My students have supported each other through illness, the death of spouses and children — all sorts of things,” she said. “We have also had plenty of good laughs.”

Exercise is nothing new to Fischer, a former competitive figure skater and skier and figure skating coach. She now stays in shape by mountain biking and skiing.

In addition her work with Aging Well, Fischer coordinates the Yampa Valley Companion Care program at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and is a freelance writer.

She is married with two daughters.

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June Ritchie teaches the Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program in Moffat County.

June Ritchie

Class: Arthritis Foundation Exercise Program

Where: Moffat County

June Ritchie has attended Aging Well exercise and Wellness Wednesday programs in Craig religiously, and enthusiastically, for more than two years.

She’s told friends, neighbors and almost anyone who will listen about the programs’ benefits to body and spirit.

The only thing left for her to do was become an instructor. So, about a year ago, she became certified to teach Arthritis Foundation Exercise. She now fills in for regular instructors at classes held at Wellness Wednesdays and Sunset Meadows and assists class participants.

“If we can bring a smile to someone’s face or say that encouraging word to lift them up and feel better about themselves, that is a great thing,” Ritchie said.

Naturally upbeat, it took Ritchie several years to rebound from her husband’s death in 2003. Attending Wellness Wednesdays, an affordable weekly program involving a day of exercise, writing and art classes, lunch and guest speakers, helped her through that process.

“Everyone was happy and joyful and looking forward to exercising and moving,” she said. “It just leaves you with such a good feeling.”

A mother with four daughters and six grandchildren, and a former office manager for her late husband’s business, Ritchie never imagined she would teach exercise classes.

The process, however, has come naturally for Ritchie, who enjoys encouraging Wellness Wednesday friends, who have become like family, to be strong and active.

“I just enjoy being around people and doing good things for our bodies so we can live healthier and more pain-free lives,” she said.

Ritchie also attends other exercise classes in the community, is actively involved in church activities and enjoys spending time with her family.

Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information, visit www.agingwelltoday.com or call 970-871-7676.

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