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Fit at 50 - You can be in the best shape of your life

“The goal is to become healthy and strong,” says longtime fitness instructor
fit-at-50    Christie Pool/photos
    Punching and moving their way to fitness - The Functional Fitness class led by Karen Dobson at the Pickens Community Center is all about encouraging participants to be healthy and to feel good. Kathy Fellows, above middle, said the class is something she does for herself.
    If Kathy Fellows wasn’t working out in a group fitness class led by her friend Karen Dobson, there’s a strong possibility she’d be eating a bag of potato chips.
    Fellows is one of a handful of devotees to Dobson’s Functional Fitness class who, at 50 and beyond, are focusing on their health.

    “I tell Karen we’re over 50 and hotter than we used to be - because of hormones,” Fellows joked. “Karen and I have been friends since high school. We went to school together, grew up together, had babies together and now we’re exercising together. I celebrate life everyday. Karen’s motto is do a little something every day and change it up and this class is just one thing I do for myself.”
    Dobson’s classes at the rec center draw a variety of folks, but many of the ones 50 and older are making huge impacts in their life.
    Five women who work at Imerys in Marble Hill have been coming together to the classes since March. One of the ladies, Denise Cornell, has lost 20 pounds in that short time.
    “I love it,” she said. “It’s definitely given me motivation. Karen’s a great teacher and her classes are very good and inspiring.”
    Others, like Martha Baldwin, agree, saying the motivation and group support she finds in the class keep her inspired.
    “And of course the accountability,” Dobson pointed out. “If you tell your friend you're going, you probably will!”
    Studies show that physical activity has important effects on mental health and that regular exercise is associated with reduced stress, depression and anxiety; enhanced cognitive function and overall psychological wellbeing; and increased self-esteem.
    Dobson has been a fitness instructor since 2005 and has taught group exercise classes, step aerobics, yoga, Silver Sneakers, Les Mills BodyPump, Spin and Pilates. She says exercise at any age is beneficial but it’s absolutely essential as we grow older.
    “Due to the hormonal changes that begin to happen at age 50 and beyond, the importance of weight bearing exercises to prevent loss of bone is so critical,” she said. “And it is true the older we get, our balance is one of the first things that starts to falter. Studies show improvements in balance, strength, gait, muscular power, blood pressure, endurance and bone density as a result of regular physical activity.”
    But there’s more to working out - especially in a group class - than the physical. The emotional aspect of a group setting can motivate us to keep coming back and working hard while in class.
    “I’ve been working out with Karen for a year and a half,” said Functional Fitness class member Patti Catlett. “It’s fun. I wouldn’t do this myself at home. This class is a good mix of weights and cardio.”
    Karen practices what she preaches too, working out daily and only occasionally taking Sundays off.
    “I do a variety of workouts to keep ‘muscle confusion’ and to keep from getting bored! I think everyone, every age, should do some form of exercise at least three times a week.
    Dobson recommends starting slow if you’re new to exercise and progressively work up the amount of time and exertion level that works best for your fitness level.
    “If you have not been exercising the first thing you need to do is get cleared by your physician,” she said. “Then do your research. See what style classes are offered and maybe go and watch the first time. Make sure there are modifications offered -  which I try to offer in all my class formats. I always tell my participants to listen to their body and do not compare or compete  with anyone in the room! Our goal is to become strong and healthy.”