55Plus: Healthy Agers enjoy a ‘Y Without Walls’

Betty Robie, shown here demonstrating a home fitness routine in 2018, will be providing instruction for seniors through Zoom. - Gabrielle Mannino

Instead of meeting at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard during the week, the Healthy Agers group is getting together virtually through Zoom. Many of them already regularly visit with children, grandchildren, and friends using iPads and smartphones, so why not use technology to keep up with their Sit 2B Fit class?

Healthy Aging coordinator at the Y, Betty Robie, has found that this new way of getting together has worked out well, and, like with most things these days, it has evolved into even more opportunities to stay connected. There is a TED Talk followed by a discussion on Mondays at 10 am, Sit 2B Fit remote classes on Tuesday and Thursday, Friday is either chair Yoga or Tai Chi using YouTube and Zoom. And, the newest undertaking for Robie, who is 70, is recorded exercise classes scheduled every morning at 9:30 am on MVTV Channel 13. This last option is a good fit for those who may not have the technology available to join the remote classes.

A former family therapist, Robie said that the real significant piece to getting together, whether remotely or at the YMCA, is building a sense of community and relationships with each other. The Healthy Agers group is made up of folks from their mid-50s to their early 90s, a group that can experience a sense of isolation even when we aren’t in the middle of a pandemic.

“Even before all this happened that was the case,” Robie said. “We wanted to pull people together from all over the Island and create an environment where they felt community.”

Robie began with Sit 2B Fit, a mostly chair exercise class that eventually grew to include more than 20 people. Members started to arrive before the class so that they could have a cup of coffee together in the Y Cafe, Robie explained. Then they expanded their gatherings to include every Thursday after class. They started having speakers come and share with the group, including retired physician Michael Jacobs who talked to them about mindfulness. Now, there are just as many people joining the classes and the TED Talks remotely, some of them from as far away as Virginia and New York.

When the coronavirus hit, it became even more clear to Robie that watching YouTube videos just wasn’t going to cut it for this group, who is used to coming together. It was a challenge at first, for herself included, she said. In the beginning, Robie would call members who were struggling with how to connect with Zoom and walk them through the process.

“These same people still needed the group,” Robie said. “My church was using Zoom and I thought maybe we could do it. It started out with just a few people and now every day except the weekend we have something with structure and purpose.”

One of the benefits of Zoom is that they can see each other face-to-face.

“Checking in is really important,” Robie said. “We go around the screen and ask if they need anything. Sometimes it’s to get the mail picked up, or we ask them if they need food.” This all makes the community they built come alive again, she said.

That sense of belonging and being connected to each other is one that Robie hopes grows stronger as a result of all of the self-isolation and self-distancing we’re all doing now.

“I think people really want to stay connected to people who mean something to them,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we can continue to focus on how important that is — person to person to person.”

To connect and check out any of these classes and to find the passwords to join Healthy Aging classes with Betty Robie, visit ymcamv.org/healthy-agers. The classes are open to everyone in the community. The YMCA offers more than 45 free weekly virtual Zoom and YouTube classes for all ages and abilities with its YMCA Without Walls programming. To see the full schedule with all the YMCA classes, visit ymcamv.org/fitness-schedule.