Not Your Grandchild’s Gym

When Medicare coverage ran out for Sally Galante’s physical therapy, she had two choices. She could pay more than $100 per session to continue her weekly post-surgery therapy at the hospital, or she could go to the Eichenbaum Health Center, a free exercise program for seniors at Jewish Family Service’s Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center, in the Fairfax area.

Galante chose the Eichenbaum Health Center. With a treadmill, stationary bikes and a stepping machine among the equipment modified to suit older adults, the center attracts more than 80 seniors each week to its Monday and Wednesday sessions. Opened in January of this year, the center has proved so popular that new Friday morning hours have been added, starting Aug. 3.

Program coordinator Mike Stifel attributes the Eichenbaum Center’s popularity to referrals from local hospitals and “an increasing awareness among older adults that exercise can help them live not just longer, but better.” Angele Guzelimian, 75, agrees. Stretching at one of the center’s exercise stations, she says, “Every time I come here, I feel I’m on a high.”

The health center offers, in addition to the special exercise equipment, a physical therapist who instructs exercisers how to use the equipment, a free shuttle to and from the center for nearby residents, and a monthly lecture series.

Older adults’ fitness concerns are often not addressed by conventional gyms or fitness programs, Stifel says. “When they go to a [regular] gym, and there’s so much complicated machinery and 20-year-olds doing everything so fast, exercise can become something to avoid.”

In contrast, “We focus on older adults’ goals,” he says. “Basically, regular exercise helps them live independently, in their own homes. They’re more stable, and their bone density is increased, so they are less likely to fall, less likely to hurt themselves, better able to take care of themselves.”

The exercise can also help relieve stress and improve outlook. Nina Dayan, 74, has been exercising at the center since it opened. Before she started, she says, “I was falling apart. My back hurt; my sides hurt.” Now, she says, “It’s life-saving. I have more energy. I have a place to go to; I see my friends here, and we exercise together.”

All newcomers to the center are screened to ensure that they are fit enough to participate. Social worker Cathy Tanzer interviews each participant in the program, “just to make sure they are safe, and see if they have any other social-service needs,” she explains.

Galante plans to use the center all three days it is open. She says exercising there can often be the highlight of her day: “I was lousy this morning. I felt like I didn’t want to get out of bed. But I knew I should come here. Now I’m here, I’m doing the exercises, and I feel better.”

Eichenbaum Health Center, 330 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 933-0791.