Fitness specialist Dorothy Chrisman shows how she is Growing Old - Fitly
Huffing and puffing isn't part of this routine. In fact, the gray-haired exercisers are sitting down on the job.
But it's a real workout; every muscle is stretched, every joint manipulated.
"Your body was built to move," Dorothy Chrisman tells her less-than-youthful audience. "It's not supposed to be idle. It must move to stay as healthy as you can be."
Chrisman was at the Brooking Park Geriatric Center Thursday to preach the good news of her Body Recall program, simple exercises for the elderly designed to get bodies - and minds - back into shape.
"We have changed the image of exercise," Chrisman says to the somewhat hesitant group, "so you'll do it."
The workout started with participants raising their heels off the ground a couple of inches and progressed to a series of stretches to the rhythmic beat of jazzy music from a tape player.
"Every time you move a muscle, there's a juice tube right next door," she says. "What do you think that juice tube is? It's a blood vessel. And in that blood vessel are all the good things your body needs."
Simple movements squeeze the vessels, thus circulating blood to all parts of the body, Chrisman says. That keeps the body in shape and the mind sharp.
The 59-year-old Chrisman developed the Body Recall program in 1979 for the continuing education program at Berea College in Berea, Ky., where she has been on the physical education faculty since 1950.
As she began to find herself becoming a senior citizen - but not feeling older at all - she says she noticed most elderly people around her becoming sedentary. She continued to exercise, but others let themselves drift into a state of physical and mental inactivity.
"I'm just not into this business of life finishing before we're through with it," she says.
Making it her personal mission, Chrisman travels through an out-reach program to centers or homes for senior citizens, telling them they can regain energy and vitality in life through easy exercises. She says she can't stand seeing elderly people letting their bodies and minds go, when it often can be avoided so easily.
"It's almost like a living hell," she says, "and I just know we've got to stop it."
Her audience at the geriatric center are one of the toughest crowds she ever had to win over. "I've never been in a place where they were so balky," she says.
A lot of the residents flatly refuse to try the exercises. Some say they have physical handicaps that keep them from participating. Chrisman tells them that some part of them could be exercised, and just that little effort will help them feel better.
A person's attitude, not anything else, is what matters, she says. "A strong mind that won't let a body perform is pitiful."
Others say they were too old to do such things. Chrisman doesn't accept that excuse. "Don't ask, 'Do they have anyone my age?'" she yells at the group, "because I tell you we'll be back here in 10 years."
Still, most of the nearly 50 onlookers from the over-sixty set assume a "wait-and-see" attitude. They are quite happy to watch Chrisman jump up on a chair perched on a table to demonstrate various stretches and exercises. Few, however, want to join in the fun - at first.
Chrisman encourages the crowd, chides the crowd, pleads with the crowd. "Let's go, let's get this thing." "Wait a minute, some of you are lifting your toes. Don't you know where your heels are?" "Come on, you're feeding your legs, you rascals!"
Finally, a few brave souls decide to give the exercises a try. The idea takes root, and others join in.
Arms stretch to the ceiling; hands open, close, open, close; knees bob up and down as feet "pedal" the ground; backs twist from side to side.
"I'll knock you in the face if I'm not careful," Minnie Dix, 92, says to her neighbor.
"That's therapy," Sally Paul, 93, replies. "I do it all of the time."
The Body Recall team of six over-70 exercise converts passes out a myriad of brightly colored sponge balls to their loyal subjects. Chrisman tells them to put the balls between their knees and squeeze. Now between the elbows, in the hands ...
Most of the others squeeze the balls in various joints, as instructed. Some prefer to roll them over hands and arms or cuddle them up to the face.
"Do enough of it," Mrs. Dix warns her friend, "and you'll be sick tomorrow of stiffness."
"I'm used to it," Mrs. Paul replies.
At the end of the workout, the crowd throws the balls at Chrisman. It's time for the Body Recall team to demonstrate how limber bodies can get through these deceptively simple exercises. "These people have elastic spines," Chrisman explains to the group. "But they just did what you did to get ready."
The six members, the oldest of whom is 79 years old, weren't always in good shape, Chrisman says. Some started out as stiff and inactive as some of the spectators who now were watching them swing their legs over chairs and roll on the ground.
"Do you notice these people aren't huffing and puffing?" Chrisman asks the crowd. "Answer me!"
A chorus of voices attests to her observation.
"And they aren't tired," Chrisman adds. "And they didn't have a heart attack."
In a carefully choreographed routine, the team exercises around chairs and dances with broom handles. After each show, the Brooking Park residents give them a round of applause - at first it's led by Chrisman, but by the end, everyone is impressed. Well, almost, anyway.
"They're doing that now," Mrs. Dix says. "Tomorrow they'll be crying."
"No they won't," Mrs. Paul replies. "That's what we all need - exercise."
Chrisman and her body Recall will return to Sedalia on Aug. 16. They will give two demonstration courses: 11 a.m. at the Senior Center, 312 South Washington, and 1:30 p.m. in the Senior Citizen's Lounge in the Women's Building at the State Fair. The second session will be sponsored by the District 2 Area Agency on Again, Warrensburg, and the State Fair.
The group's only funding comes from the sale of Chrisman's book, Body Recall, which is available for $16.50 from Body Recall Inc., P.O. Box 412, Berea, Ky. 40403.
The Sedalia (Mo.) Democrat, Aug. 5, 1984