Never too old to workout in seniors home gym

Sharon Murphy (right) grins as personal trainer Donna Hyland looks on at the Pauline Potter Fitness Centre in Halifax. (Allison Devereaux/CBC)

Sharon Murphy sometimes stands out among the other regulars as she lifts weights at a north-end Halifax gym.

It’s not just her hot pink T-shirt. At 70, Murphy is one of the younger people who frequent the Pauline Potter Fitness Centre, a gym geared towards helping seniors get — and stay — in shape.

“I’m a baby around here,” Murphy jokes while working out at the gym, located within the Northwood long-term care facility.

The retired psychiatric social worker, who lives at the facility, weightlifts and walks on a treadmill as part of her fitness routine.

“I know how important working out is for depression and things like anxiety,” she says. “Everybody over 50 should be involved in an exercise program.”

Awe-inspiring seniors

The open-layout, wheelchair-accessible gym attracts a wide variety of people looking to get fit, including seniors recovering from heart attacks.

It also has staff trained to work with people with dementia and touts itself as the first gym in North America to feature a dementia-friendly design.

That includes decor with contrasting colours that helps people distinguish different elements in the room.

With a $20 monthly membership, the gym also draws people who don’t live at Northwood, including university students on a budget.

“It’s such a wonderful mix,” says Donna Hyland, a personal trainer at the gym.

She says Northwood residents benefit from meeting younger people and community members.

“Our residents love to come down, it’s good for them mentally,” says Hyland, adding that gymgoers from the community are often surprised by how dedicated Northwood residents are.

“They’re in awe as to what they see here.”

‘It’s amazing’

Craig Fleming, 48, aspires to be like some of his older, fellow gymgoers.

“I think it’s amazing they’re still working out at that age,” Fleming says while cycling on a recumbent bike. “When I’m older, hopefully I’ll be healthy also.”

Working on bicep curls at a weight machine, Norris Eddy admits he sometimes has to force himself to go to the gym. The 72-year-old lives in the neighbourhood and say when he first joined, he worked out alongside a 95-year-old who exercised daily.

“He was very inspiring,” says Eddy, 72. “He had a lot of energy, very sharp.”

Janet Langille, 81, is a Northwood resident who can often be found doing stretches and lifting weights. She says she’s been exercising for about a month and says regular trips to the gym have built up her confidence.

“I have a walker but I can go so fast with it,” she says.

Earl Martel sweats as he hits a mini punching bag. The 85-year-old says he feels better about himself after a gym session. “I go away feeling pretty good.”

Hyland says many gymgoers start visiting the fitness centre after rehabilitation for knee or hip surgery ends. Arthritis and heart attacks are among the most common ailments.

Others make exercise part of their routines to stay functionally fit and engage in day-to-day activities.

88-year-old gym newbie

Hyland says her most rewarding client was a woman who set foot in a gym for the very first time at 88 years old. Through regular exercise, three times a week, she crossed off her bucket list goal: to celebrate her 90th birthday on the beach in Cuba.

“Her heart became stronger, her lungs became stronger. It’s a mindset, too. When you get a bit older you think you can’t do these things,” she says.

From her spot on the treadmill, Murphy says she has no plans to quit her workout regime any time soon.

“I leave here feeling like a new person,” she says. “I’m going to work out as long as I can crawl.”