Fit After 50s

Wendy Psomas leads the Active Stretching class at the Daytona Beach Shores Community Center.

It's 10 a.m. on a Tuesday and a tall, blond woman bounds up the stairs to the second floor of the Daytona Beach Shores Community Center, exercise mat slung over her shoulder.

Today is her first day attending an hour-long exercise class her friend, Mary Sharon, has recommended for her.

Entering the room, she is warmly greeted by her friend and by class instructor Wendy Psomas. The instructor knows the other four women attending the class well. They have become friends, and some of them have been taking her classes and training with her for several years.

She chats briefly with her new student, Cindy, about some of her problem areas before class begins. She knows which exercises her other students should refrain from and she wants to make sure no one gets injured.

Before beginning, she quickly points out the class name has been changed from Pilates to Active Stretching because she doesn’t want to discourage people who may be afraid Pilates is too difficult.

“If you Google Pilates, you may think it’s going to be too hard or strenuous, so that’s why I’ve changed the name,” Ms. Psomas said. “I don’t want to scare people off.”

There is a good amount of stretching, she said, but she does incorporate many Pilates exercises as well as a bit of kickboxing (Ms. Psomas studies Muay Thai) and other moves she has learned during her 38 years in fitness training and as a certified personal trainer. She has instructed for Daytona Beach Shores for more than 10 of those years. Now in her 60s, she knows her craft well and her students today, also in their 60s or older, know the exercises and how to do them properly.

The classmates talk among themselves before the music starts, catching up with one another. Rose Ann Felice, a newcomer, said this would be her third time attending the class. “I like the stretching, the heart rate, the instructor and the women in the group,” she said.

Mary Sharon Howell, a long-time beauty consultant who knows many of the women from her business, said she always attends the class when she’s home.

“I travel a lot for my job, but when I’m here I never miss this,” she said. “This class is excellent for keeping yourself physically fit. As we age, we are all going to have issues. And keeping yourself fit, you will be around longer and just be healthier.”

Then in an instant, the ladies get into position as the music starts. Ms. Psomas begins standing exercises and her students are right with her. She instructs the women to punch, punch kick several times, then calls out, “Now we’re going to race.” Everyone runs across the room and back several times. They giggle as they saunter back and forth. After several more standing cardio-type moves, they move down to the mats, engaging in Pilates moves, such as roll-ups, planks, balancing and core work.

She asks the students to perform her invention for shoulders and arms. “Give me a claw with squid fingers,” she calls out as the women bend their hands and wiggle their fingers.

She tells certain women during the session not to do some of the exercises the others are doing to protect them from injury. The women are working hard and the moves are demanding, but no one is sighing or complaining. Now planks. Jan Jenth, her student of eight years, holds her plank for a full two minutes and outlasts the others.

Ms. Psomas tells the women to love their bodies: their thighs, their arms, and other body parts. At one point, she instructs the women to massage their big toe. “It’s an important part of your body and it needs attention, too,” she said.

She instructs the group to breathe and smile. After the lengthy workout, Ms. Psomas asks the women to lie quietly on their backs and empty their minds. “Relax, deep breathing and no bad thoughts,” she said as she darkens the room.

After the session, Ms. Psomas looks at her group of student friends as they regroup to chat again. “Look at those calm little faces. Give yourselves a big hug.” she said emphatically.

She is convinced Pilates-type exercises are equivalent to rehabilitation, saying they can help avoid taking drugs for ailments. “It’s just about health,” she added. “(Getting older) doesn’t mean we can’t do things. One of these women here is 73 and she can do more core work than anyone I know. She’s amazing.”

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