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Active Older Adults: Finding a New Vitality

“Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”- Betty Friedan

Staying active as you age is extremely important for both your physical and mental well-being. Exercising regularly can help prevent or delay many injuries, diseases and disabilities, and in some cases it’s an effective treatment for many conditions. We have many programs for our Active Older Adult (AOA) community here…everything to keep you moving and healthy!

Mary Jo Dervos works as a swim instructor for all ages and as an exercise instructor for the Y’s Nia and Exercise for Parkinson’s classes.  She also leads meditation workshops at the Lake House.

Mary Jo began her career in health and physical education 25 years ago. She was then working in Columbus, Ohio as a Recreation Leader to develop recreational programs at senior centers that offered no forms of exercise for their residents. She implemented programs such as aerobics, chair exercise and line dancing… all geared toward seniors to keep them active and mobile. One center also had a pool, which is where she got the idea to teach swimming. She already had a background in swimming and she loved the sport, so she decided to get her WSI (Water Safety Instructor) certification as well as a personal training certification to work specifically with seniors.

A few years later, she moved back to Glen Rock, NJ where she began coaching the town’s summer swim team, and teaching PE and health at Paramus Catholic High School, as well as coaching their swim team. She relocated again to Chicago, but it was there where she quite literally stumbled upon something that would become a huge part of her career here at the Y. She saw an advertisement for Nia, a form of exercise which draws from disciplines of the martial arts, dance arts and healing arts, using the body’s natural design to improve function. She immediately fell in love with the philosophy, and knew it would be perfect for seniors, since her instructor was 70 years old! There was no one teaching Nia in Northern NJ, so she pitched it to the Y, and well, the rest is history! She’s been here ever since.

Many of the techniques she utilizes in her classes are rooted in her own practice of meditation, which she started 25 years ago when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She’s beaten cancer twice now, saying that “meditation keeps me peaceful and balanced. I don’t get upset about adversity or feel overwhelmed.” Her calm and peaceful demeanor, and visualization and breathing techniques that she’s learned from years of practicing meditation, help her adult beginner swimmers overcome their fears. Her students have gone from being afraid to put their faces in the water, to swimming laps for an hour in her Workout 101 class!

“I just love seeing people have fun and enjoy life in ways they never thought they could before,” Mary Jo said. What makes her such a great instructor is that she herself is a true embodiment of vitality. By harnessing her own strength and energy, and of that in the world around her, she is able to create a sense of self-empowerment. Power giving not just continuance, but enjoyment and peacefulness, of life.

By: Tracy L. Nieradka