Terry Abshire, program director for Vickery Towers, helped introduce exercise classes to the retirement and assisted living community about a year ago, and he loves to talk about his success stories.

One of them is 90-something Mary Felber, of whom Abshire is particularly proud. When she started the exercise classes, she was in the assisted living facility, barely able to walk.

“She lives in the independent living facility now and walks well with a cane,” Abshire says. “And she’s progressed so well that she’s gone from low-impact to high-impact classes.”

It’s stories like these that underscore the benefits and importance of seniors staying active.

“It’s very important for people to continue with a range of motion so that they can continue the activities of daily living – walking to dinner and those kinds of things,” Abshire says. “But it also helps with depression or the feelings of abandonment some people feel when their family moves them to a place like this.”

Over time, the response has been enthusiastic.

“We have 210 residents, and approximately 50 percent participate in one of our exercise classes,” Abshire says. In fact, he says, the yoga class is becoming so popular it will probably have to move to a bigger room soon.

So what can the average senior citizen do to stay healthy and active? Well, even seniors who don’t live at Vickery Towers can go there for exercise.

“Anyone can come and join our classes,” Abshire says.

Other neighborhood places also offer free or low-cost exercise classes. Call your local senior center, AARP group or retirement community for referrals.

Seniors also can start a program on their own. AARP’s Web site, www.aarp.gov, offers these tips for starting and sticking to an exercise plan:

  • Reinforce yourself. Keep reminding yourself about the benefits you realize from exercise. Make a list and post it where you can see it every day.
  • Do what feels good. Choose an activity you like. That way, you’re more likely to stick with it.
  • Don’t sweat it. If you’re pressed for time, divide your activity into small sessions. Take a 10-minute walk at lunch, another one after dinner; pull weeds for 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Ease into it. Don’t try to do too much at once, especially if you have a chronic illness or other health condition. Talk to your doctor and try to devise a fitness plan to suit your individual needs and situation.
  • Eat well. Food provides the fuel your body needs to exercise and function efficiently. Choose your foods wisely and try to pack in as many nutrients as possible.