Senior centers rev up physical activities

As more younger senior citizens aged between 60 and 75 coming in, senior centers are bringing more physical activities like Zumba dance.

By Siyao Long

Senior centers are no longer about Bingo for the 80-year-olds.  As more younger seniors in their 60s are coming in, North Center Satellite Senior Center added  Zumba dancing, line dancing and more physical activities to the programs.

Helen Tubog seeks out Zumba rather than Bingo at the senior center.

“Excercise is No.1,” said Helen Tubog,  a 66-year-old Zumba lover. She dances at the North Center Satellite Senior Center and the Northeast (Levy) Senior Center every week.

“Last January, I said to myself I have to go on,” she said.  After her second husband, Lorenzo Gabaisen, died in 2013 — only three years after they got married, Tubog decided to keep dancing and started volunteering at the North Center Satellite Senior Center as a dress-making teacher and massage therapist.

“What can I do if I just sit in the house for two years?” she said. “I’m stagnant.” Before her husband died, Tubog and Gabaisen danced at the Swingin’ Seniors, a senior cheerleader team of the Chicago Bulls. For Tubog, dancing has been a part of life.

While some people are questioning whether physical activities like Zumba are too much for the elderly, Tubog said she’s just trying to do what she can. “I have had diabetes since I was three years old,” she said. “And I also have hypotension. If I’m not taking the medications, I don’t know if I can reach 80. I’m just doing my best.”

“We have all the emergency equipments there,” said Mary Ann Bibat, vice president of senior services at the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. The organization runs five senior centers, including the North Center Satellite Senior Center, a collaborative program with the city of Chicago’s senior services.

Bibat said they avoid risky physical activities like mountain climbing, but have brought a lot of creative programs, such as a senior Wii Bowling team, a swimming team for the Senior Olympics, senior proms and flash mobs. “We are seeing a lot more younger seniors coming in, and they want different things compared to the previous generation,” she said.

According to 2012 U.S. census, baby boomers are reaching age 65 in record numbers. By 2030, one of every five Americans—about 72 million people—will be an older adult.

Photo at top: As more younger senior citizens in their 60s join senior centers, the centers are bringing more physical activities to their programs.   (Siyao Long/Medill)