Participants keep their bodies in motion during the active older adult circuit class taught by Payne and King at the YMCA.

Good for the Heart, Good for the Soul: Group Fitness for Active Older Adults

“If they are consistent, we see improvement within a month.”

By Shana Siren Kempton

“Get ready to roll!” hollers the woman in front as classic rhythms of ‘50s soul music fill the large gymnasium. Forty-two seniors start marching and grooving to the beat – some seated and most on their feet – as veteran instructors, Carolyn King and Guietta Payne, lead them through two heart-pounding warm-ups. 

This popular class at the Cleaver YMCA, located at 70th Street and Troost, is called SilverSneakers Circuit. It is one of eighty-five classes designed for active older adults and offered weekly by the YMCA of Greater Kansas City. 

Fitness options for adults age 65 and older abound across the metro. Health programs such as SilverSneakers, Silver&Fit, and Renew Active are offered at no cost to senior adults through select Medicare plans. Most gyms and community centers partner with at least one of these programs to offer group fitness classes tailored to older adults.

Payne and King teamed up in the mid-1980s to teach group fitness long before they themselves were seniors. Now, they teach two classes together each week, taking turns to lead while the other supports and helps members who need assistance. They call themselves “motivators.”

“We’ve kind of gone through some dark times but we keep bouncing back,” shares Payne who can empathize with the losses and health setbacks that are common in the elderly.  

King started the SilverSneakers program at the Cleaver YMCA when it opened in 2006. “I’m a people person and seniors are my ministry!” declares King.  

Guietta Payne and Carolyn King started teaching together decades ago. Today, they lead a successful group of active older adults both inside and outside of the gym.

Health Benefits

Multicomponent physical activity which includes balance, strength, and aerobic training increases cardiovascular function, decreases the risk of injury, delays the progression of chronic diseases, and improves sleep and memory, among other benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, older adults who engage in approximately 150 minutes of physical activity a week see a 33 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who are sedentary.

In every class, King and Payne see improvements in participants who come with a range of abilities and in all ages. “If they are consistent, we see improvement within a month,” offers King. They celebrate one another’s successes. In fact, their oldest attendee recently celebrated her 100th birthday with much fanfare from the group.  

People come for the movement and stay for the socialization. Payne says, “Seniors communicate but that social media stuff – that ain’t us. We like to interact with each other in person.” 

The communal benefits of group fitness motivate people to come regularly. Phil and Kathy Chaney exercise almost every day of the week. “This class gets me out of bed and keeps me active,” laughs Kathy. 

In addition to exercise, the group makes time to socialize. A volunteer social committee has brought in speakers on topics like identity theft, celebrated Black History Month together, hosts lunches and gatherings, and is currently preparing for a 90-person field trip to see a show at Sight and Sound Theater in Branson.

Patricia Caviar, age 74, popped into one of Payne and King’s bustling classes a year ago and was hooked. “When I walk into that class, I feel like I’m coming to a party!” says Caviar. “It is so important for them to be there for their students in every way. They make it like a community.”

To close each class, King offers what she calls a “dismissal” – a prayer or poem that keeps life in perspective, putting the focus on “love and connection.” King and Payne have recited the dismissal since their first days of teaching decades ago.  

In unison, they say: “Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing. Bid us now to part in peace. Lead us on to heavenly matters, that our love and our friendship increase.”

Then everyone claps. And they keep on moving. This time with a little more determination and spring in their steps.


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