CORNELIUS – Bouncing a tennis ball back and forth after saying their intended catcher’s name, participants of the Older Wiser Living Stronger program get to know one another and stay active.

Through the free Lake Norman YMCA outreach program OWLS, adults 55 and older can participate in hour-long, low-impact exercise classes to improve strength and coordination and maintain their overall body, mind and spirit through activity and social interaction.

Twice a week, a group meets at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church to participate, though it is also offered at Huntersville Presbyterian Church, the Ada Jenkins Center and Bethel Presbyterian Church.

“The benefit of OWLS is that it helps maintain flexibility and strength,” said participant Sally Kingsbury. “I fell and I believe I didn’t get hurt because of the exercise. I don’t like (gym) machines. Working with the group offers more camaraderie. We are almost like a family.”

Nolan Sutherland, OWLS program coordinator and one of the instructors, said the program is designed for older adults to feel more comfortable by meeting in their community rather than at the gym.

“It can be overwhelming to go to the gym and see people doing machines and classes,” she said. “Having classes only for them at their church enables them to do exercise with their friends.”

With music playing, the participants complete their exercises, taking time to laugh at themselves, make jokes and help each other when a “bad” ball goes astray. Afterward, many opted to go to “lupper” (a 3 p.m. meal that isn’t lunch or supper), teasing that it’s their way of undoing everything they just did.

“The thing is, it isn’t just exercise,” Jeanne Simonini said. “Coming here changes your whole attitude. I’m happier when I do this. This is therapy and it’s keeping your mind in shape.”

The exercises, which include activities like bouncing a ball and then tapping a foot out or using resistance bands, can be modified to meet the person’s needs. Some may choose to make the exercise easier or even sit one out, joining back in when they feel ready.

“With the new people, it’s amazing to see how much they’ve improved their strength and flexibility,” Sutherland said. “Doing the right exercise helps them improve, prevents falls and accidents and helps them be as mobile as they can be to maintain their daily living as long as possible.”

Since joining OWLS, among other programs, Katy Hollingsworth said she has seen an improvement in her arthritis and finds that she is more active than she used to be.

“When I started, I did a lot of sitting in the chair,” she said. “But the more I continued, the more I could do.”

To see how they were doing, Sutherland said participants completed a fitness test in January and retested them again six weeks later.

“When we have the same group for awhile, we are able to all improve at the same rate and we can do more,” Sutherland said. “When new members join at different fitness levels, we are able to bring them into the fold.”

Sutherland said she has seen noticeable changes not only in abilities, but also seeing participants make friends and be happier.

“That makes me feel good to know I’m changing someone’s life,” Sutherland said.

OWLS is funded through annual Community Support Campaign Contributors and donations from the hosting facilities. All instructors are certified and employed by Lake Norman YMCA.


Want to go? Older Wiser Living Stronger is an outreach program by the Lake Norman YMCA to provide exercise classes to seniors. Participants need to register, but there is no cost and they can take part in whichever classes they choose.

• Monday: 11 a.m. Huntersville Presbyterian Church, 1:30 p.m. yoga at Bethel Presbyterian Church

• Tuesday: 10:30 a.m. at Ada Jenkins Center, 1:30 p.m. Bethel Presbyterian Church

• Wednesday: 11 a.m. Huntersville Presbyterian Church, 2 p.m. Mt. Zion United Methodist Church

• Thursday: 1:30 p.m. Bethel Presbyterian Church

• Friday: 10:30 a.m. Ada Jenkins Center, 2 p.m. Mt. Zion United Methodist Church