by: Jaime Valdez, STAYING IN SHAPE — Barbara Conrad of Summerfield (left), Helen Schisler of  Tigard and Mynde Reim of  Tigard participate in Loaves & Fishes’ EnhanceFitness class.

TIGARD - In the large lobby of Southwest Church of Christ on a Friday morning in February, a group of lively seniors was warming up and then exercising - all for the sake of maintaining good health and keeping fit.

Leading part of the Enhance-

Fitness class was Barbara Mahoney, a Loaves and Fishes employee who walks the walk, not just running the fitness program but also participating as a teacher.

In 2005, Loaves and Fishes got a grant from the Northwest Health Foundation, which was doing research on senior fitness, according to Mahoney, whose title is the living-well-with-chronic-conditions program manager.

Fitness classes started in 2006 'because it fits in perfectly with Loaves and Fishes' philosophy,' Mahoney said. 'If seniors have agility and better balance, they won't fall and break something. You keep them standing and facing forward.

'We're not part of the research study anymore, but we check new participants at four months, eight months and 12 months after starting the program.'

Upper-body strength is checked by seeing how many arm curls can be done with a 5-pound weight in 30 seconds; lower-body fitness is determined by how many times someone can stand up and sit down in a chair in 30 seconds.

'There's no cost to our fitness program,' Mahoney said. 'We wanted to include low-income people. Anyone who feels compelled to pay can make a donation. Technically, Loaves and Fishes serves people 60 and over, but we don't ask for ID.

'The beauty of the program is that it can be done at level one - sitting in a chair - or level two - standing. What we've found is people who start out sitting will graduate to doing some standing, and eventually, they stand all the time.'

Mahoney, who started working at the Tigard Senior Center 5½ years ago as Director Karen Gardner's assistant, admitted that a few seniors have even quit the classes because they didn't find them challenging enough. 'I call that graduation,' she said.

Participants also use weights for some of the exercises, which, according to Mahoney, are good not only for strength and agility but also help to prevent osteoporosis. 'I've seen 90-year-old women using 5-pound weights,' she said.

'One of the cool things about this program is that people can make it as intense as they want,' Mahoney added. 'Sometimes it takes a while to figure out how much they can do.'

There are specific protocols for instructors to follow, but individual instructors have some latitude on the order they follow, and 'they can throw in their own thing,' Mahoney said.

She is a living example of how the program changes lives.

A diabetic, Mahoney occasionally teaches classes and lost 15 pounds in three months. She is using half as much insulin, and her cholesterol is down.

'I'm like the poster child for the program,' she said. 'I'm proof it works. Moving is always better than not moving, as long as you take it easy.'

The program is offered through the Tigard Senior Center at two different times three days a week and classes resume at the center April 1.

'I want to say that during the remodeling, the Southwest Church of Christ has been nice enough to let us hold classes here for free,' Mahoney said. 'Our classes are being held in lots of facilities around town.

'We're always looking for instructors, and a background in fitness is good. A certificate in senior fitness is even better, and a CPR certification is preferred, although we've never had a mishap yet.'

Sherry Linder, who is taking the class, said it is 'very, very, very worthwhile.'

She added, 'It helps you get out and stay active. It's easier for me to get around, and the people are really nice.'

For more information on the EnhanceFitness classes, call Gardner at 503-620-4613 or Mahoney at 503-953-8163.

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