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Nonagenarians pursue physical, social health

By Nancy Arcayna

LAST UPDATED: 10:38 a.m. HST, Dec 18, 2012

Yoshiko Kitagawa had two knee replacements, lost mobility and was required to use a walker, but she wasn't about to give up hope of getting her old life back.

About three years ago she found it at the 90 Something Club at the Kaimuki YMCA. Kita­gawa, 93, now walks without assistance, works out on weight machines and participates in aqua exercise classes five times per week.

She is one of more than a dozen seniors over the age of 90 who regularly work out at the Y.

According to Cecilia Blackfield, 97, the informally organized 90 Something Club is much more than an exercise group. Although she gets in the pool every day and only recently gave up running and walking, it's the socializing she holds dear.

"Everybody shares," she said. "We made a directory with everyone's names. We have a Christmas party and a house party in the spring. It's darling."

For her 97th birthday, Blackfield received hugs from club members, who serenaded her with "Happy Birthday."

"Everyone loves everyone," she added.

Wally Kawachi, 90, who says he is the baby of the group, wholeheartedly agrees.

"I'm so happy to meet with all these people. It's what keeps me young," he said. "Plus, my wife pushes me to move around more. We do a little gardening at the house, but I come here and use the treadmill and weight machines."

Kawachi made a lifesaving decision to add fitness to his daily routine after he was rushed to the hospital and had a pacemaker installed. After his recovery, his doctor told Kawa­chi he needed to exercise and suggested he take advantage of the free fitness club membership benefit offered by his Medicare Advantage plan.

He now goes to the Kaimuki Y religiously five times each week.

Leslie Sharp, a healthy-lifestyle coach at the Y, strives to keep these seniors both young at heart and happy.

"Our entire YMCA association is focused on helping people live better, no matter what age," said Jaclyn Garringer, healthy-lifestyles director at the YMCA of Hono­lulu. Programs have been expanded to include the growing senior population.

"A large number of those seniors are physically active. We have activities that benefit their social, mental and physical wellness."

In addition to an array of water classes, such as aqua tai chi and aqua aerobics, the Y branches offers Zumba classes for seniors and activities like bridge and bingo.

"Seniors need the same attention that young adults, athletes and everyone else does," Garringer said. "They may not be focused on building huge muscles or getting ripped. It's all about variety and preventative maintenance, which everybody should be doing."

YMCA of Honolulu is holding Senior Open House events at all branches Jan. 7-9. For more information, call 531-9622 or visit www.ymca­hono­

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