HANCOCK - One month shy of her 99th birthday, Sylvia Collum is living proof that you're never too old to be active.
"It's good for your health for one thing," the Lakeview Manor resident said before joining her friends in exercise on a recent Monday morning. "A lot of people just sit and sit. It gets depressing and that isn't good. You've got to stay active."
Collum was one of a handful of seniors who turned out for Gentle Exercise in the community room at Lakeview Manor in Hancock Monday. The 10-week series of classes, offered at various locations in Houghton and Keweenaw counties, focus attention on posture and breathing, proper body mechanics, flexibility of joints, muscle strength and balance.
"It's a series of exercises for flexibility and strength and it's adapted to each group," instructor Susan Burack said. "It gets every joint and muscle moving."
The sessions last from 45 minutes to one hour and the exercises are performed while sitting on a chair.
While it's mostly women who participate, Burack said she does have a group in Lake Linden at Rustic Meadows where there are more men than women.
"My mantra when we start out is everybody is different and each person knows what they can do and what they can't do," she said. "They need to pay attention to their body. Pain is a signal and they need to listen to it."
According to printed information from Burack, exercise is beneficial for a number functions relating to the brain, circulation, digestion and respiration. Exercise also improves the nervous system, joint flexibility, bone strength, sleep and mood.
On top of that, Burack said, Gentle Exercise offers an opportunity for socialization as the chairs are positioned facing inward in a circle formation.
"We laugh a lot," she said. "I say I have the best seniors in the Copper Country because they exercise and their attitude is so positive."
For Monday morning's session, Burack brought along a sack full of items she incorporated into their exercise routine - colorful foam and fuzzy rubber balls, a parachute and homemade weights in the form of water bottles.
The group opened with breathing exercises, inhaling and then exhaling while making a loud, hissing sound.
"We hiss because it makes our tummy muscles work," Burack said.
A series of EFT techniques, or "tapping on the exit points of the meridians," in which participants tapped lightly on their heads, eyebrows, outer corners of their eye sockets, upper lip and beneath their collar bone, followed.
Together the group wiggled and stretched their extremities before engaging in a series of other exercises. When the balls were tossed in the center of the group, Green Bay Packer fans Diane Klemett and Gloria North were quick to choose the green and yellow ones.
Following the class, Burack said they end with her giving each participant a back rub.
"Everybody always says that's the best part," she said. "When you're a senior citizen and you live alone, you don't always get a lot of touching."
Eighty-eight-year-old Gladys Olson said she's been participating in Gentle Exercise for as long as she's been a resident of Lakeview Manor.
"It's been about 10 years now," she said. "I've always liked exercise. It just makes you feel good after you do it."
Burack said if there's one prescription doctors could give it would be exercise because of the many physical and psychological benefits.
"I have to credit Terry Smythe for her backing of the program," she said. "Her belief in exercising extends to senior citizens."
Burack said Gentle Exercise is sponsored by Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, Portage Health, Aspirus Keweenaw Home Nursing and Hospice, Keweenaw Community Foundation, the Commission on Aging and participating sites.
Gentle Exercise classes are free and open to the public. For more information, call 482-3270.