Not too long ago, one of Karen Oakley’s popular fitness classes included a loyal contingent of senior citizens.
When COVID-19 made it impossible for large groups to gather, her solution was to turn her Lewiston garage into a training studio and begin offering personal training sessions one-on-one.
Since then, she’s drawn clients from age 16 to 87. She’ll tell you that while everybody benefits from moving their bodies, senior citizens can literally change their lives for the better if they exercise even just a little bit.
Oakley’s former Silver Sneakers class attracted seniors as old as 90 and some have found their way to Oakley Strong Personal Training at her Autumn Lane home, including Niagara Falls resident Mary Maj, who started taking sessions five months ago.
Maj thought she despised exercise but says Oakley makes the sessions so enjoyable that “I actually leave each day smiling.” The workouts, personalized for her abilities, have also increased her balance and strength, as well as eased discomfort in her lower back.
Recently Oakley and Maj made a workout video for seniors to use at home, available at www.niagara-gazette.com and on the Niagara Gazette YouTube channel.
After their video session, Oakley answered a few questions about her life and her work.
QUESTION: What can seniors citizens expect when they work out a couple of times a week?
ANSWER: Seniors who exercise receive many health benefits. Working out with weights or even using their own body weight, seniors can develop stronger bones and slow down muscle loss. An exercise routine helps improve balance and reduce the risk of falls. It can also improve mental health, which is more important than ever now. Many seniors who are not accustomed to exercise maybe be timid to start. I always suggest they start small by taking a walk, parking their car farther away from their destination, finding a sanctuary where they feel comfortable walking, like Art Park or Goat Island and making exercise a fun activity. They will feel better and improve the quality of their lives.
Q: How did you get into the fitness business?
A: Once I graduated from Lewiston Porter High School, I pursued my passion and opened a dance studio in Lewiston called The Dance Shop that was successful for 30 years. I loved it but there was always something missing in achieving the fitness level I aspired to. I started teaching group fitness and realized people needed guidance to understand and achieve their fitness goals. This started my passion to want to help others get healthy and led me to personal training. I have been training clients since 2007. I work with people of all ages and fitness levels. My clients range from high schoolers to senior citizens.
Q: How did COVID impact your business of personal training?
A: Once all gyms had to close due to Covid-19, I introduced my one-on-one training outdoors. When the gyms were able to reopen, I decided to open a personal training studio in my home that complies with all mandated guidelines. I converted my garage into my studio and it turned out beautiful. I couldn’t be more pleased. My clients love the privacy more than anything.
Q: What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
A: Seeing results from my clients is the best, but results can be many things. Benefits include weight loss, medication reductions, strength and endurance gains, and improving balance. But, the most important benefits are intangibles such as positive reinforcement during their sessions as I encourage and motivate their improvements and pay attention to each person’s specific personal challenges and goals. Personal training is just that, personal. We are all different, and once I understand my clients’ potential, they embrace my encouragement are proud of themselves when I tell them, “Because You Can.”