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Retirement is a good time to get off the couch

Getting off the sofa to work out after being sedentary your whole life requires more will than skill
A Zumba Gold class in Vancouver given by Peachtacular Home Health Care gets the “unathletic” moving | Submitted

Barb Ashcroft considers herself to be the non-athletic kid who got picked last for every team. She was more of an idea person, a thinker, never drawn to sports. This continued in her career as an herbalist and kinesiologist, where she spent most of her time behind a microscope or in front of a computer.

“Behind an iridology camera was not a healthy place to be because you’re not moving at all.”

 “I was so non-athletic, I would see someone running or biking and I would think, why would you put yourself through that?” says the 69-year-old, laughing.

These days, however, Ashcroft is laughing all the way to a fitness centre in Qualicum where she looks forward to joining a variety of exercise classes. The switch came after doing some self-reflection and realizing what’s important to her is not the exercise alone, but the feeling of community.

“You know exercise is paramount, but still, it was only by shame that as a health consultant I was supposed to be walking the talk that I was doing any athletic or fitness-related activities,”says Ashcroft.

“I hired a personal coach to come to my house, but never followed up on their instructions. That’s why trying to get fit at home wasn’t working; because I needed community.”

Going to the gym hadn’t fulfilled her needs, she says. “It was just grunt work. I would think, ‘Kill me now.’ You really need to find the key that will unlock that need.”

It’s been six months since Ashcroft made the turnaround.

“I’m shocked how excited I am to get to my classes,” she says. “My shoes are packed, my water’s ready, and I think, ‘Who are you?’

“It’s just amazing to me that at 69, I’m just finding this out now. I go three to four times a week and I plan my day around the classes I want to participate in.”

Applying the right “carrot” is key to getting people to exercise, says Arrow Gonsalves, founder and lead trainer, Heart Drum Beat Brain & Body Training Academy in Courtenay. Her focus is on conditioning the entire system – physical, mental and spiritual – to improve internal energy through qigong breathing exercises, meditation and yoga.

The combination of movement and breathing gets blood circulating through the brain so it performs better. It results in better sleep, a better functioning mind, improvement of memory and even feeling more optimistic.

Gonsalves says  this type of combination of modalities works well for those people who are generally not that physical.

“The classes are gentle on the joints,” says Gonsalves. “Anyone can do the exercises and it’s a precursor for overall healthy lifestyle.” She adds that even younger athletes might find the class challenging but everyone can do it.

A practitioner since 2002, Gonsalves runs in-person workshops but also streams classes online, enabling participants to join from the comfort of home. She says it’s rarely the inability to move that keeps people from being able to do exercise.

“It’s more the will to make a change than physical ability,” she says.

Another big draw to get the “unathletic” moving is to have a variety of options to choose from.

Yoga teacher Avital Balkin says those starting out should look for classes that cater to a variety of levels.

“They have to start from where they are and be very patient and keep at it,” says Balkin, who includes Pilates and TRX suspension training in her practice. “I’m always trying to give lots of options for those who just started so they don’t feel left behind. And moderate, gentle exercise is always good for anyone.”

Balkin suggests those new to exercise start with a gentle hatha yoga class, then move up to regular hatha and then flow yoga, and also to look for classes that focus on the baby boomer age group.

If none of the regular incentives grabs your interest, and you can’t be guilted into getting off the couch, music can always be an inspiration, says Peachy Magistrado, owner of Peachtacular Home Health Care. Magistrado is trained in teaching Zumba classes for seniors, and educates her home-care staff as well.

“Music therapy inspires them to move,” says Magistrado, whose employees bring the Zumba music with them when doing home visits. “They may not necessarily dance, but they’ll get upper body exercise. It’s a way to get them started. If there’s no music, they’re not inspired, but if they hear something different, they start moving.”

Magistrado suggests starting with just 15 minutes a day for those who have been inactive for a long time.