Seniors credit their vitality to fitness class

  • Thu Aug 23rd, 2012 6:21pm
  • News

By Debra Smith Herald Writer

EVERETT — Fred Peterson is 89 years old, but you’d hardly know it.

He lives independently in a tidy Mukilteo condo, drives and still works a little.

His trim middle would put quite a few 20-somethings to shame.

“I see a lot of people younger than me with one foot in the grave,” Peterson said.

His secret: exercise. In particular, he credits a fitness class he regularly attends at the Carl Gipson Senior Center in Everett.

It’s called Enhance Fitness, and it blends low-impact aerobics, strength training, flexibility, balance and what instructor Vicki Cairns describes as “silliness.”

What she means is her students have fun. They crack jokes, trade stories and support each other when times get tough.

The class is as much a social club as a workout. Many of those who show up end the class with a cup of coffee and conversation.

“It’s physical health and mental health,” Cairns said.

The class was developed by Senior Services of Seattle along with the University of Washington and Group Health Cooperative in the mid-1990s.

Variations of the class are available at senior centers, hospitals and retirement homes, including in other locations in Snohomish County.

It’s targeted specifically at adults 50 years and older at all levels of fitness who want to retain function as they age.

At a typical class, a warm-up is followed by an aerobic workout that gets people moving to music, a strength workout with soft ankle and wrist weights, stretching and balance exercises.

The soft weights are especially good for those with arthritis because they don’t have to grip a weight in their hands, Cairns said.

The class is designed so people can modify the moves. If, for instance, standing on one leg feels wobbly, it’s OK to do the exercise sitting in a chair.

However, most everyone at a recent session could do-si-do circles around their sedentary peers.

In Everett, participants range in age from barely eligible for Social Security all the way to could-have-stormed-the-beaches-of-Normandy.

People couldn’t say enough about what the class has done for their lives.

Barbara Gulke is able to walk, even with arthritis in her feet.

Donna McGinnis has the best-toned neck her massage therapist has ever seen.

Kay Erickson can weed her entire yard. She’s proud of the muscle that’s developed in her arms.

“I feel stronger,” said Erickson. “I feel more confident in what I can do and I understand my body better.”

They also couldn’t say enough about Cairns, who was named the top instructor two years ago in a five-state area.

Wendell Browning even found love at class. He spotted Betty across the room eight years ago and now they’re married. They still hold hands in the car at stop lights.

“This is the best kind of support group,” he said. “We exchange stories, we laugh, we feel that support — even before it’s coffee time.”

In Everett, the class is offered 8:45 to 9:45 a.m., Monday through Friday. Five-week sessions cost $27 for three days a week and $43.50 for five days a week.

The class is free to Group Health Medicare members.

Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or

Where to get fit

To find an Enhance Fitness class, call 206-448-5725 or go online to For information about the class at the Carl Gipson Senior Center of Everett, call 425-257-8780.