About 18 months ago, Charles Williams started having problems keeping his balance.

His son noticed and gave him a private lesson with a yoga instructor as a Christmas gift. After five months of private lessons from yoga instructor James Wells, Williams was finally ready to go to a full class.

Williams, 84, now does yoga twice a week, and the benefits have been worth it, he said.

“My balance – that’s the main improvement,” Williams said following a recent yoga class at The Nature Gallery. “I walk five or six days a week and I come here twice a week, so I get enough exercise to keep my weight down. I’ve lost about 20 pounds in a year and a half. The main thing is being able to keep it off.”

Growing older means a whole new set of challenges when it comes to keeping your body strong. Joints ache and don’t move as smoothly. Bones lose density and muscles lose flexibility. Your heart has to work harder overall.

Regular exercise can make a huge difference in the lives of older adults and can allow them to remain more active as they continue to age.

Studies have shown that regular walking or practices like Tai Chi with its slow and measured movements can improve overall health as well as help with flexibility and balance.

James Wells teaches yoga at The Nature Gallery in downtown Dothan. Among the different classes he teaches is a Bowspring therapeutic yoga, which is what Charles Williams takes. (naturegalleryyoga.com)

Wells has a background in physical therapy and said Bowspring is focused on finding alignment with slow, therapeutic movements. It strengthens muscles to support the body’s core, Wells said.

“It’s just a mindful practice,” he said. “It’s meant to be really natural and curvy.”

Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to be beneficial.

The National Institute of Aging started a campaign called Go4Life and has a website that provides tips on nutrition and shows simple exercises that help with endurance, strength, balance and flexibility. Some of the exercises shown can be done in a chair and incorporate light weights. Exercises as simple as standing on one foot or a heel-to-toe walk can help with balance. (go4life.nia.nih.gov)

At Rose Hill Senior Center, the older adults who visit the center have access to an exercise room that has two treadmills, four stationary bicycles, a weight station and an ergometer. The seniors also go bowling and do other activities, said Debbie Reed, the Rose Hill Senior Center director.

There’s even an instructor who visits the center to lead older adults in chair and standing exercises.

Reed said the older adults often encourage each other to exercise even if it’s just walking laps down the long hallways at Rose Hill. Exercise, Reed said, helps with range of motion, improves the heart and lungs, and can help with simple tasks such as turning your neck while driving.

“It’s probably one of the most important things they can do,” Reed said. “When you exercise and you do something as simple as walking … it improves your mental state tremendously. You feel better. Not only does your mental state and lungs improve, you just absolutely feel better.”

Charles Williams said he owes a lot to his yoga and walking regimen and to his son who gave him the initial nudge with the yoga lesson gift. While private lessons cost more, a yoga class like those at The Nature Gallery can cost as low as $10 per class. Williams said older adults who want to improve their health should at least give it a try.

“I feel better and I sleep better,” Williams said. “It’s just improved my life.”

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