Longevity Project — Part 2: Garfield County a hot bed for fit seniors
Post Independent correspondent
Photos by Chelsea Self
Post Independent photographer
The Longevity Event
Why do Garfield County and Colorado’s mountain resort areas in general have among the highest life expectancy in the country? Speaker Tony Buettner, with the Blue Zones Project, provides science-based answers on Monday, Sept. 24, during the Glenwood Springs Post Independent’s “The Longevity Project” event at Morgridge Commons/Colorado Mountain College (above the Glenwood Springs Library). Doors open at 5 p.m.; program starts at 6 p.m.
The program line up includes an interview panel of guests at 6, followed by Buettner’s talk at 7 p.m.
Buettner is the senior vice president of business development at Blue Zones, a Minnesota-based team that puts the research of National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner into action in communities across the country. Dan Buettner is the New York Times bestselling author of “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest,” “Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way,” and “The Blue Zones Solution.”
Tickets are $25, including food and refreshments, and are available at Postindependent.com/Longevity
Each Sunday through Sept. 23, the Post Independent will also be featuring a series of “Super Seniors” profiles, as nominated by our readers earlier this summer. Look for the next installment on Sunday, Sept. 9.
Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a four-part Longevity Project series by the Glenwood Springs Post Independent looking at the keys to living a long life and issues around aging in Garfield County. Additional parts will appear each Wednesday through Sept. 19.
Garfield County’s seniors are an active lot — and it’s not just walking to the supermarket or playing bridge.
Colorado ranks second in the nation in physical activity by people over age 65, and Garfield County’s forever youngsters are contributing to that impressive ranking.
Hal Sundin, 92, long-time member of the skiing, hiking and biking “100 Club,” will finish out this hiking season clocking over 100 miles. Sundin, who has climbed all of Colorado’s 14ers (14,000-foot peaks), leads the club’s hiking group with a total 7,200 miles.
“That’s farther than from the Equator to the North Pole,” he points out.
“Spring, summer, fall, I ride my bicycle around 100 miles a week,” says fellow 100 Club member Ray Limoges, 79. “Most of that is [Glenwood Canyon], which, round-trip, is 37 miles from my house.”
Limoges and his fellow cyclists go everywhere — Grand Junction, New Castle and Zion. And even with last year being such a bad snow year, Limoges still got in 75 days of skiing.
Not to be outdone by the ambitious 100 clubbers are the hiking ladies of the “Wednesday Wanderers.”
“I bet it’s jumpin’ on 48, 49 years that I’ve been hiking with the group,” says Kay Robinson, 85, of Rifle.
From Timber Ridge to Beech Gap, the Wanderers schedule promises “moderate hikes at a moderate rate.”
“I’m pretty active. I cross country ski. And I ride (horseback),” adds Robinson. “I have a horse and a mule. I can only ride one at a time. I rode the horse three days last week. I’m lovin’ it.”
These hearty ladies remain undaunted, even at the challenging high altitudes of the central Rocky Mountains.
“About a month ago, we were all hiking at altitude, and I passed out,” recalls Wanderer Viola Robinson, 83. “We were way up at the top of Independence Pass at Lincoln Lake – 12,000 feet.
“I was only unconscious for a few minutes,” Robinson said. “Then we all hiked back down. I will continue hiking. I even hiked that next week, just no more of the real high altitudes.”
Over a large tumbler of cold pomegranate juice, sister Wanderer Joan Troth, 86, proclaims, “I’m a health nut. I eat steamed, organic vegetables, quinoa, poached farm fresh eggs and I drink pomegranate juice.” Troth even feeds her Labradoodle, Cocoa, local grass-fed beef.
“The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is a Tai Chi type of warm-up and a few exercises that stimulate nitrate oxide production, which is good for heart health,” Troth adds. “And six of us play tennis three times a week.”
“Lifestyle choices play a large part in longevity,” says Jim Coombs, chief executive officer for Rifle’s Grand River Health. “It plays a bigger role than genetics or the health care system. Diet and exercise increase the odds of a healthy lifestyle at any age.”
In 2017, Garfield County was the first community to receive the Governor’s Healthy Community Award. The county was selected for its focus on disease prevention through healthy eating and active living. The county’s expanding bike and pedestrian infrastructure was recognized.
Barbara Peterson and Debby Sutherland of Garfield County Senior Services coordinate free balance and exercise programs for seniors throughout the county.
“We started out three years ago with 25 classes,” says Peterson. “And now we have 36. Word of mouth is getting out.”
Sutherland adds, “Our classes are growing. All of them are getting full now. We have to start a wait list.”
Seniors are joining the gym in record numbers. From Rifle to Carbondale, enrollment is up.
Battlement Mesa’s Grand Valley Recreation Center has overall membership of 2,543, and 370 of those members are over age 65.
The center’s fitness instructor, Charla McCredie, holds low impact versions of cardio and strength classes.
“I call it my ‘Get up and Move’ class. I try to take us down to the floor,” McCredie said. “We use chairs and weights. I play good music to get the heart rate up. I even have one gal who’s 85.”
something for all abilities
McCredie has seen a significant rise in her senior attendance.
“I started the class about a year and a half ago, and for the first six months it was one or two of us,” she said. “And in the past year, it has really grown to 15 to 18 a class. And for Battlement Mesa, that’s amazing.
“I see more of an awareness now in seniors than ever before,” she continues. “It’s in their minds that they’ve got to keep moving, got to keep working out, got to be physically active. They are a lot more health-minded today. Even the water aerobics classes are jam-packed with 14, 15 people.”
Over in Rifle, Tami Sours, who manages the Senior Center, has seen an enthusiastic attendance.
“We have senior groups of 15 to 20. We even have seniors in their 90s. We meet three times a week and do chair exercises,” she explains. “They love it.”
In Carbondale, “Seniors Matter” instructor John Norton has taught fitness for over 15 years.
“I teach Tai Chi and Chi Gung. Tai Chi is a series of martial arts maneuvers done very slowly. It includes a lot of posture and has balance benefits, a lot of muscle work which helps the bone.”
Norton notes, “Harvard Medical School says Tai Chi is the best exercise a human can do.”
“Once people pass the age of 60 or 70, they think they don’t have to keep trying anymore,” says 100 clubber Shirley Limoges, 80.
“We have friends that are skiers, and they recently talked about moving to Florida. And then they didn’t talk about it anymore. I asked, ‘What happened to moving to Florida?’ My friend replied, ‘Those people take naps. We’re not that old.’”
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