Keeping it moving: Seniors at Rhoda Goldman Plaza know the value of exercise

Reby Lerner is devoted to her exercise classes at Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco.

“At my age you can’t sit in your room all day,” says Lerner, 93, who moved to Rhoda Goldman Plaza five years ago with her husband, who died in January. “I take all the exercise classes. It is so important to me mentally and physically.”

Seniors at Rhoda Goldman Plaza participate in a wide variety of physical activities seven days a week, says Arete Nicholas, Rhoda Goldman’s director of health services and a licensed RN.

“Exercise doesn’t always have to be vigorous,” Nicholas says.   “But it is important for people to maintain flexibility and strength.”

All the classes at Rhoda Goldman are facilitated by exercise specialists and include everything from tai chi (a Chinese martial art involving movement), weight training and general toning.

“And we can modify the exercises for those in wheelchairs or who are less mobile,” Nicholas says.

Anna White (above) works out in front of Renee and Jerry Neuhaus during an exercise class at Rhoda Goldman Plaza. Below, Selma Lachman (left), Tina Schwartz and Philip Weinberg lift weights.

Nicholas insists that Rhoda Goldman residents — and other seniors — adhere to several vital guidelines before embarking on any exercise regimen. “People need a checkup from their doctors before they begin classes. And people need to take precautions with any medical conditions.

“We also ask that people stretch at least five minutes prior to class,” she adds.

The constant movement is what appeals most to Renee Neuhaus, 85, who lives at Rhoda Goldman Plaza with her husband of 62 years, Jerry.  They met at San Francisco’s Lowell High School, which they both attended after emigrating from Germany in 1939.

“I like exercise. I just don’t want to get soft; I want to keep my body in good shape,” Neuhaus says. “My husband and I have been exercising for the past 30 years. Being in shape is very important to us.”

Neuhaus and her husband, who raised three daughters together, experience the benefits daily of stretching and weight training. And, as Nicholas notes, the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of remaining active.

Nearly 45 percent of seniors who are at least 75 years old are inactive, Nicholas says. Obesity often compounds that situation. “With the exercise groups, we have found that it’s never too late to make a change,” Nicholas says.

“Exercise helps seniors avoid chronic diseases. The CDC issued a study that showed how exercise lowers blood pressure. Exercise also builds muscles and assists the joints.”

Use it or lose it, Nicholas counsels. “I tell people to start slowly and take rest days between exercises.”

Nicholas also says people should wear comfortable clothing and start with manageable goals, exercising two to three times a week in the beginning. The key, she cautions, is for people to remain safe.

“We don’t want anyone falling down,” she says, which is why Rhoda Goldman residents undergo a battery of tests before they are allowed to participate in classes.

Participants said one of the best features of the exercise classes at Rhoda Goldman is the variety.

Some involve pulsating hip-hop rhythms and others employ more casual Big Band melodies. A few even utilize DVDs. But all of them adapt to the needs of the residents.

“One resident has a weak left arm,” Nicholas says. “So he uses his ‘good’ arm when he raises his left one. But people are always pumping their legs, doing leg extensions, arms curls, and moving.”

Moving together and drawing inspiration from one another keeps the residents active in other ways.

“The group motivates each person within it,” Nicholas says.

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.