(Editor’s note: The articles in our 2020 Health and Wellness special section were written prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. While some of the facilities and businesses referenced are now closed due to the current health crisis, they will be there when this has passed and we all return to our normal routines.)

LOS LUNAS — With water bottles in hand and a yearning to get moving, nearly 20 people mingle with one another waiting for class to start.

The participants in the EnhanceFitness class at the Daniel Fernandez Recreation Center in Los Lunas are 50 years or older, and regularly attend the class not only for the social aspects but, more importantly, for their physical well-being.

Lea Pierce, the program’s certified instructor, says EnhanceFitness is an evidenced-based program designed to improve stamina as well as balance and strength for older adults.

Lea Pierce, the certified instructor for the EnhanceFitness class at the Daniel Fernandez Recreation Center in Los Lunas, says regular exercise improves overall health, especially for older people
Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo

“We really encourage people to come three days a week — two would work as well,” said Pierce, a certified instructor. “But they’ll get better and quicker improvement in endurance and strength if they come more. We try to encourage them to come as often as they can.”

With a master’s degree in health education, Pierce has a passion for health and wellness. Having first (and still does) instruct yoga as a yoga master, Pierce began teaching EnhanceFitness several years ago.

“This is designed for seniors to get that complete workout so they have endurance and balance,” she said. “We’re keeping our bodies more vital and alive with movement.”

Each class begins with a five-minute warm-up, followed by 20 minutes of cardio, which includes “fun dance.” There’s another five-minute cool-down, and then 15 minutes of weight lifting with both upper- and lower-body weights, ending with stretching.

As with any exercise program, Pierce says, the hardest part isn’t the actual physical activity — it’s motivation.

“They have the motivation to start coming to a class, and they might come to the next one and then for a few weeks,” she says. “But life happens, and someone might get sick or they have other things going on and they will miss a class or two.

“Then they think they can miss a week, and it kind of tails off,” Pierce said. “What has to happen is if they are committed, they’ll do what they have to to come. They’ll change doctor’s appointments to off days, or they’ll change their schedule to make sure they come to class.”

EnhanceFitness is specifically designed to meet the needs of the mature exerciser. The hour-long, three-day-per-week class is designed to improve physical conditioning and to decrease the risk of falling.
Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo

When Pierce started as an EnhanceFitness instructor, she began with about six students. Today, she regularly has about 18 people in each class. If she gets anymore, she says, they’ll have to move the class into the main gym of the recreation center.

“There’s an element of friendship we’ve formed here,” Pierce said. “There’s people who know one another and they’re engaged, and sometimes we’ll even go out after class for ‘Taco Tuesday’ or just to chat.

“And the members we do have will welcome anyone who is new,” she said. “I’m so proud of them and how they interact with one another and encourage.”

EnhanceFitness is designed for seniors, who might not get the exercise they need in their daily lives. Pierce said most will get their exercise by only walking their dog or doing some yard work.

“It’s not necessarily cardio, it’s not improving their balance and they’re not strengthening their muscles,” she said. “If we don’t hold our muscle strength, we’re going to lose the core element of our body that allows us to move.”

Participants start at their own pace while building their confidence as they attend more classes. Some of her students have told her they “can’t do without the program,” and have said it’s made a big difference in their lives.

For Gloria Blea, of Los Lunas, EnhanceFitness has brought a positive change in her life since she started in 2012. Having been diagnosed with not only diabetes but breast cancer years ago, her doctors said she needed to start exercising and taking care of herself physically.

“I’ve been here ever since,” Blea said. “It is a lot of fun. It helps me mentally, physically and socially. It’s my outing — it’s my time.”

Susan Dyer has been a member of the EnhanceFitness class for only about a year, but she is now training to be Pierce’s substitute instructor. She says Pierce is a great role model, who is positive and encourages everyone.

If you go:

What: EnhanceFitness class

Where: Daniel Fernandez Recreation Center, 1103 N.M. 314, Los Lunas

When: 10-11 a.m., Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday and Thursday

Cost: $2 per day, senior discounts available; fitness cards are available to be purchased for 20 visits

Info: Before someone can participate in the EnhanceFitness class, they have to obtain a physician’s release.

“Sometimes when you go to an exercise class, especially when you’re not in shape and you’re older, you feel a little intimated, and she does everything to keep that from happening,” Dyer said of Pierce.

Dyer retired at the end of 2018, and one of her goals was to just get moving again. Not only has Dyer made the commitment to exercising three times a week, her husband, David, takes the class as well.

“I was immediately hooked,” she said. “It took him a little while because of all the dancing, but he was telling me this morning how much better he feels, and we both do. Our stamina and ability to do stuff is better and we feel healthier.”

Not only do they feel better about themselves, they have more energy to do the activities they want to do.

“This has really changed my life,” Dyer said. “This is my primary activity — I schedule everything in my life around the class because it’s that important to me. I didn’t expect that to happen at all, but it has.”

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.