By GLYNIS VALENTI, Times Leader Staff Writer MARTINS FERRY—Jackie Bednarik is busy. She keeps a dizzying schedule that includes leading exercise sessions on Monday mornings, working part-time at her church in the afternoons, cooking for 150 people every Wednesday, volunteering at the Daily Bread soup kitchen, making cards and sending them to friends and homebound seniors, managing a home-based business, meeting with friends to do puzzles, hosting Bible studies at her home and—oh, yes—she’s the president of the Martins Ferry Senior Center. Bednarik is one of a growing number of active senior citizens who know that staying busy means staying healthy. Community-minded Bednarik enjoys helping people and volunteering and cites her grandmother as a role model. “She’s one of those people who never met a stranger,” she says. On Wednesdays, Bednarik’s church, First Baptist in Martins Ferry, holds a “food and fellowship” service open to the public. She enjoys cooking, decorating the tables and interacting with friends every week. She believes that doing things for others takes the mind off one’s own troubles, and doctors agree. Becoming involved in meaningful causes gives one a sense of accomplishment, introduces a circle of like-minded friends and keeps the mind active. A study at Johns Hopkins charted the improvements in cognitive activity of seniors in a youth mentoring program. Involvement with the program changed the seniors’ brain patterns and increased abilities in the parts of the brain that control organizing and planning. Seniors who cannot be out and about can still help their favorite organizations by making phone calls, doing paperwork or working on their computers from home. Physical exercise is also important and easier than one might think. Walking is the most common and one of the easiest ways to improve circulation, heart functions, increase bone mass and improve muscle tone, but many seniors are afraid of falling. In fact, however, not walking can pose a worse health threat than the risk of falling. Starting out slowly and for short distances, seniors can build strength in bones and muscles simply by using them. Muscle mass will increase and so will coordination. The body will burn more calories, decreasing unhealthy pounds and potential for obesity and lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and Type II diabetes. Seniors confined to wheelchairs or beds can still increase strength and range of motion, build muscles and improve circulation in the upper body by lifting small weights. Many of the senior centers offer gentle chair exercises and games like balloon or chair volley ball for those who want a bit more action. Bednarik teaches the chair exercise class at her senior center and also takes sessions at Curves. Some area fitness centers offer Medicare’s “Silver Sneakers” program with free or reduced center memberships. The stretching and bending routines of yoga are beneficially calming and increase muscle tone and flexibility. There are many exercise DVDs and television programs geared toward seniors from which to choose. Check with a doctor for recommendations and before beginning any new exercise program. After retirement, seniors can become isolated, but doctors say that this is actually a great time to reconnect with friends, revisit old hobbies or take up a new interest. Bednarik does all of these things. Once a week she meets a group at the First Ward in Martins Ferry to do crosswords and Jumble puzzles. She’d always wanted to paint, so she set up a small studio in her basement. Her daughter invited her to a Mary Kay Cosmetics party, and now Bednarik is a sales rep holding parties and demonstrations in her home. The key is finding something that is enjoyable and to some extent interactive, whether it’s ballroom dancing or birding. Tammy Marcum, activities director at Emerald Pointe in Barnesville, says, “I’ve seen seniors who, when they first come to our facility, are depressed and anxious. After becoming involved in some of our group activities, they have a new outlook on their stay here.” Emerald Pointe and facilities like it offer a wide range of activities and outings to accommodate many interests, for example, sing-a-longs, card games, bingo, movies, trivia games and therapy dog visits among others. They have a walking program on their grounds in the spring in conjunction with local senior centers that brings their residents outdoors to walk and other area seniors to the campus to walk and visit. Marcum says the friendships seniors form with each other and visitors are very important to their well being. Retiring does not mean “too old.” To the contrary, staying as active as possible for as long as possible will help keep the mind and body young. More and more research indicates that even small-scale activities like lifting hand weights, walking around the block or mall, doing puzzles, reading and just talking with others on the phone or internet can improve mind, body and spirit. What is the one thing that Bednarik and her senior center friends all say is important? Laughter. “We laugh a lot around here,” she chuckles. Marcum agrees. “I love working with seniors and enjoy hearing stories about their lives. We try to keep everything upbeat and positive,” she explains. “There is never a dull moment. You know what they say, ‘laughter is the best medicine.’” Valenti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jackie Bednarik, center, leads the Monday morning exercise class at Martins Ferry Senior Center. Seniors who stay or become involved and active, lower their risks for depression and many chronic health problems.