REAL PEOPLE: You're never too old to start program

By Jeff Petersen February 03, 2014 10:46 am

The Portland metro area has about a million people.

The Cove metro area has about 1,000.

Dana Dobbs is bringing some of that big-town spirit to little Cove with her Strong Seniors program. The Massachusetts native (like Tom McCall, Oregon’s most famous governor), leads a high-energy fitness class for about 20 students — 18 women and two men — twice a week, except in summer, when time off is given for good behavior. 

Dobbs calls her students “the movers and shakers.” One student, Martha Taylor, 71, of Cove, like many seniors, suffers from arthritis. She said the class, in particular the weight training, helps alleviate symptoms.

“She keeps us motivated and is always complimentary, very positive,” Taylor said. 

Kay Wilkerson, 77, of Cove, has been involved in the class for about five years.

“All the bending and stretching helps keep my joints lubricated,” she said. “It’s important to keep moving. It gives me energy.”

As a relative newcomer to the area, Wilkerson said the class also helped her become acquainted with people who live in the area.

Dobbs likes the social aspect of the program, too. But her specialty is physical fitness. She grew up in Marblehead, a coastal town in Massachusetts, and excelled in athletics, everything from tennis and badminton to sailing and track and field. In fact, during high school she was on the mile-relay state champion team. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences.

Later, when the family moved west to Portland, she was into modeling and product development for running shoes. Later, she was a sales representative for performance materials and athletic shoes and apparel.

She started her own company, I Deal Fitness, in 1995.

“It’s really my athletic experience, and several coaching jobs that have helped me achieve success as a fitness consultant and personal trainer,” Dobbs said.

Dobbs and her husband, Palmer, moved to Cove from Portland five years ago, and she started teaching the Strong Seniors classes in fall of 2009. Now she teaches about 50 hours of classes a year.

“I didn’t want to send the kids to the Portland public schools, and we were looking for a unique school system in a rural community and found Cove,” she said.

Strong Seniors, she said, is for anyone, not just seniors.

“Everybody needs to be physically fit,” she said. “But as you get older, keeping physically fit becomes more important. All the toning, stretching, strength training and aerobic activity helps slow the decline that comes with aging. People who do the fitness class are healthier and don’t go to the doctor as much. They feel better about themselves. They live longer and better.”

Especially important for older people — the average age of class members is about 70 — is weight training. 

“It gives you healthy bones and a supple muscular structure,” Dobbs said. “You move with ease, not with strain and pain.”

Dobbs enjoys her students when they share their success stories.

“It’s a win-win for me,” she said, “committed participants who want to come to class and enjoy the camaraderie.”

The class meets twice a week, from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, at the Cove Baptist Church.

Strong Seniors also gives participants an important social outlet.

“They make friends, hold each other accountable,” Dobbs said.

People can either pay by the class — $4 – or they can commit to a 10-class session for $30, a $10 discount.

“You wouldn’t find that sort of affordable class in the big city,” Dobbs said.

Strong Seniors was Dobbs’ first opportunity to teach a senior class, and she has learned that it’s important to start at an easier level and build to a more difficult level, but not to overdo it.

“A 60-year-old is not a 20-year-old,” she said. “When you’re older, injuries take a lot longer to heal.”

Dobbs makes sure to encourage students to work at their own individual level and pace.

She also encourages them to, as the Nike slogan goes, just do it. Some people, she said, think they’re too old, or too out of shape, to start an exercise program.

“It’s never too late,” she said. “You just need to move, move, move. Movement can be so beneficial to enhancing quality of life.”