At Sit and Fit, They Bend and Bond

Step into the Sit and Fit Class at NorthBay HealthSpring Fitness and you'd swear the women seated in the circle have been friends for ages.

There's plenty of good-natured ribbing and teasing banter while fitness coach Gina Pickett tries to keep the team on task.

"OK, ladies, pick up your bands. We're going to do an exercise for the upper back," she calls out.

There are a few groans and a few chuckles as the women follow directions.

They range in age from mid-50s to late-80s. Some are recovering from surgery, some are battling disease. Collectively, they've survived cancer, diabetes, a stroke, a traumatic head injury, knee and hip replacements, and much, much more.

But they take it all in stride, sharing their stories and offering words of encouragement as they go.

"This class lifts me up," said Joyce Bryant, who has had both knees replaced, and is now focused on losing weight and lowering her blood pressure. She lifts her weights with gusto, and taps her toes to the music, hits from the '40s and '50s.

She's the class greeter, welcoming everyone as they arrive with a huge smile and a hug.

"This class keeps me invigorated," said the retired sales associate. "I really enjoy the ladies I've met there. I love the camaraderie!"

"We leave our troubles at the door," agreed Nancy Schrieber. "And filters, too. We're old enough. We do warn new people."

New people should also know that joining the group means their social calendar will start to fill up. The women not only get together for class twice a week, but they've started doing lunch and potlucks.

"It took us a little while to get to know each other," said Linda Hallahan. "We've been through a lot, and at our age, we're cautious about who we call friends. But every time we met, we just liked each other a little more. We all commiserated in our agony of the beginning - joint pain, muscle pain."

Linda recently went out for cataract surgery, and received numerous text messages from her class friends throughout the week.

She couldn't wait to get back to class to catch up with her buddies.

"I'm really blessed to find this group of women," she added. "We're all here to help each other, that's what makes our group cohesive. We want to see each other succeed."

Linda is well on her way toward success. She retired after 46 years of nursing, a job she loved that helped her put her children through college. But caretaking for other people took its toll on her. She weighed more than 300 pounds, had blood clots in her lungs and then breast cancer.

"I think it was God's way of returning the favor. I had taken care of so many people before, it was my turn to be on the receiving end. After that, I decided I needed to start taking care of myself."

She has lost more than 50 pounds, and no longer needs a walker to get around. She's exercising twice a week and building strength.

"HealthSpring makes me joyful. You walk in and feel absolutely loved," she said.

Joan Constantine joined HealthSpring when it opened in 2016 and had been busy doing water exercises, because it was easier on her back and knees. The "Sit and Fit" class turned out to be a great choice because it allowed her to have some variety and build upper body strength.

"Everyone relaxes and has a good time. We may be laughing, but we're also getting a good workout," said Joan. "Nobody is looking to run a marathon, but people want to be able to continue to do as much as possible, for as long as possible."

The class began in September 2017, and is held Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:30 p.m. Coaches Megan Thiedeman and Gina Pickett facilitate the class, as well as other group fitness classes at HealthSpring. Between the two coaches, they have more than 30 years of experience in the fitness field.

"The concept was to reach a population of people who either had assisted devices (canes, walkers, etc.) or needed alternative ways to exercise due to limitations," said Gina. "As a result it has brought together a population of participants who have been very supportive and caring of each other."

The main goal of the class is for participants to move better, get strong, feel better and laugh.

"There are times my face hurts from laughing so much," admits Gina. "It has become much more than we thought it would. I have seen these women take care of each other and show sincere and genuine concern for each other. It's awesome. It puts me - and all of us - in a good mood."

For information on joining NorthBay HealthSpring Fitness, call (707) 624-8080.