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Seniors' Exercise Routine Packs a Punch

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ST. LOUIS - They kick, they jab, and they keep their dukes up as they break a sweat.

Sounds like most of Charlie Foxman's martial arts classes. But this class isn't just any kickboxing class. "Most of the students in this class are in their 80s and 90s," Foxman says. "But the oldest is 100."

100-year-old kickboxers? Come on.

"They do all the movements," says Foxman, "but they do do them sitting down."

Their reasons for coming to the kickboxing class at a senior-living residence in St. Louis, vary.

Bill Mullens, 81, says he needs the exercise to help control the balance he has lost in his fight with Parkinson's disease.

Walter Smith, 89, likes the spirit of camaraderie he gets from working out with friends. "It's fun as well as a real feeling of accomplishment."

Caroline Meyers, 84, is building her strength so she can continue to do everyday activities, such as opening heavy doors.

And Delos Reynolds decided that at 90 it's about time he got rid of his "spare tire"-that would be the tiny paunch he has around his belly.

These residents come to the facility's fitness room at 2 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday for a 30-minute class that teaches them the basics of kickboxing as well the basics of muscle strengthening.

"I use resistance training to help build up their bones, to fight osteoporosis," says Foxman. "Exercising their full range of motion helps them in their daily activities. It also helps with arthritis, and with balance."

Foxman, owner of Martial Arts Academy in St. Louis, started his partnership with the senior-living residence two years ago.

Bob Leonard, director of operations of the senior-living community, wanted to bring more residents into the facility's gym, so he called his friend and former instructor Foxman, hoping he could start a class.

"Because we have so many different classes and because this one is a little more advanced, I thought if he could get five of our residents ... that would be worthwhile to us," Leonard says. "And now look at him-he averages 12 to 15."

On a recent afternoon, nine residents gathered for the class. After taking attendance, Foxman leads the group in a warm-up with some stretching, set to the tune of "Soul Man."

The class members remain in chairs for the workout. "They need to sit for balance," says Foxman. But he adds that it is his goal to have them stand for the workouts someday.

After the warm-up, the exercisers use resistance bands to work their legs, waist, triceps (for pushing) and biceps (for pulling). Then they get into the aerobic kickboxing part. They kick and punch and even work in a few combinations before Foxman calls the workout a success. Most of the class has perfect form, and rarely does anyone call it quits before Foxman tells them to.

"Everybody tired?" he asks the class.

"Yes," every one of them yells back.

He moves on to stretching and some martial-arts breathing techniques. Then each member gets a high-five for a workout well-done.

"I love the feeling I get after I've completed a workout," says Reynolds, one of two in the class of nine using an advanced green resistance band.

"We all enjoy it and look forward to it," says Smith. "I wouldn't miss a class."

Foxman, 61, says the class teaches him new things, too. "It shows you are never too old to do fitness," he says. "If I can make them happy for as long as I can - then that's the key. This is very gratifying for me."

And the class appreciates his effort. "He has a good spirit, and he's a good teacher," says Smith.

But for Millie Prager, 86, who came to class despite having a bad day and not being able to walk well, the class is a challenge.

"My favorite thing about class?" she says. "Seeing the clock go to 2:30, which means the class is over."

Reporter Amy Bertrand:


Phone: 314-340-8284


(c) 2003, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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