They come for the exercise. They stay for the friendship.
The Busy Bodies senior exercise class has been a fixture at BREC’s Independence Park for more than 20 years, and in the community for even longer. Three times a week, 30 or so women — the class is open to men, but few have ever attended — stretch, bend, walk and move all their joints.
Then, they sit down over coffee and enjoy each other’s company.
“We’re all one big, happy family, and I’m serious,” said Ruth Knox, who has been attending since 1989. “If somebody has a problem, everybody prays, everybody talks, goes to see them. We’re just like family.”
And, like every family, the Busy Bodies have a mother.
Adrienne Percy started directing a senior exercise program for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge as early in 1979 or 1980 at the old CYO gym behind Sacred Heart Catholic Church, said Denny Braud, who was CYO director at the time. Ruth Brown, who still attends, began in 1984 when Percy started holding classes at the Church of the Way.
Percy now lives in a retirement home and stopped leading the class in 2009. However, she made two exercise videos, and the Busy Bodies use those to conduct their workouts.
The workouts won’t remind anyone of infomercials that promise washboard abs and buns of steel. But these have a different purpose. They are designed to maintain movement and flexibility for seniors. The average age of participants is 78, said Sheila Smith, center supervisor for Independence Park’s Adult Leisure Program. Two 94-year-olds attend.
In the first half of the hourlong classes, participants exercise either sitting in a chair or standing but using the chair for balance. Some classes finish with an extended period of walking, while others use light weights for toning exercises.
“We make sure they know if there is anything they can’t do, don’t do it,” Smith said. “We don’t push them to hurt themselves. Sometimes they will sit out for a second, because they’ve got a back problem or something, which is OK.”
Many of the participants were invited by friends and were reluctant at first to come, but have stuck with it for years. Verlie Gibson credits the class for helping her recover from cancer of the mouth.
“I had a 16-hour surgery,” she said. “If I hadn’t been in shape, I’d have never made it through that operation.”
In addition to the classes, the group has lunch once a month at the State Police headquarters, and many participate in other BREC-sponsored seniors events.
It’s a carry-over from the way Percy ran the program.
“Adrienne was constantly thinking of things to bring people together,” Brown said. “She just had an outgoing personality. She loved people. She enjoyed doing things and wanted to include people.”