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An 82-year-old woman, diabetic for 20 years, credits the class with keeping her off insulin. A 72-year-old with Parkinson's disease said his balance has dramatically improved. Others say they've avoided knee surgery, kept their osteoporosis in check or stopped taking steroid shots for back pain.

Thanks to the class, Bonnie Resig said, she feels as good at 75 as she did as a cheerleader in high school.

"I don't know that I can do a flip anymore," she said. "But I can move and groove."

Exercise is good for you, as everyone — including those who live under rocks or just arrived from Mars — knows by now. Especially for older people. Numerous studies show physical activity can help protect against heart disease, stroke, diabetes, dementia and some types of cancer. It's associated with improved mental health and quality of life.

The only hard part is, well, actually doing it.

That's why Anne Tudor's ForeverWell class for older adults at the Ridgedale YMCA in Minnetonka is so popular. Participants, ranging in age from their late 60s to mid-80s, say the instructor draws them in.

"Anne is my inspiration — you want to go, go, go when she's doing it," said Don "Punch" Benson. After stent placements 30 years ago, Benson started fitness classes. These days he runs a hobby farm. "If I hadn't been doing this class, I wouldn't be able to do half of what I do at 80."

Slim and 75, Tudor is as good an advertisement as any for physical activity's benefits. She often calls exercise "medicine."

"I've seen the results and I've seen the health issues," said Tudor. a Wayzata resident. "People are getting stronger, people are getting better posture."

But it's for Tudor's instruction that many participants say they show up.

Bonnie Resig, 75, says thanks to the class she “can move and groove” like she did as a high-school cheerleader.
Bonnie Resig, 75, says thanks to the class she “can move and groove” like she did as a high-school cheerleader.

David Joles, Star Tribune, Star Tribune

"I love her sense of humor, she just brightens my day," said Sharon Rescorla, 71, who has osteoporosis. "This has kept my numbers from getting worse."

"I schedule my life around Annie," said Sandy Harvey, 68. "She's my exercise goddess."

Highest draw

At one of Tudor's classes about a week ago, more than 50 people filled the gym, moving steadily to music ranging from the 1920s standard "Has Anybody Seen My Gal?" to Van Morrison's 1967 "Brown Eyed Girl."

Her classes draw more participants than any other Y group class for any age, said Y ForeverWell coordinator Molly Skoro. Before COVID, attendance ranged from 70 to 100 and "parking was an issue," she said.

The Y tried to remedy the problem by scheduling a second ForeverWell class with a different instructor. It didn't work — people kept signing up for Tudor's class.

"People were coming from the New Hope Y and the Southdale Y because they'd heard she was a great instructor," Skoro said. "People told me they actually would set alarms on their phones so they knew to sign up so they could get in."

In the class, Tudor stands in front of the group, calling out instructions: "Two steps to the left! Two steps to the right! Work the inside of your legs! Strong middle! Kick those feet! Up on the toes again!"

She performs all the movements (in reverse, acting as a mirror image for the class) with more vigor than most — legs kicking higher, arms swinging wider, punching the air. She provides a running monologue that some people find all the more charming because she's from England.

"Sometimes I'll say, 'Can we have an interpreter?' because no one understands me," Tudor joked. "I never stop talking to them. I continuously tell them and remind them, 'How's your posture? Are you pulling your abs in? How do your legs feel? Take it easy — if you're not comfortable doing a move, don't do it, just march and smile.'"

Most students' motions were smaller than Tudor's, their steps shorter, kicks lower, arm waving less robust. But aside from quick water breaks, they kept moving through an hour of warmup, aerobics, weightlifting, balance and stretching.

"She's tough," said Julie Appel Duncan, a ForeverWell coordinator who helps with the class. "It can be challenging."

It's hard work, agreed Jane Laurance, 82. "But you don't watch the clock."

Builds confidence

More than a third of people over 65 get no physical activity, the highest percentage of any age group. Aging brings loss of muscle strength, weight gain, aches and pains and maladies that make movement harder. But fitness can improve at any age.

"So many people think, 'Oh, I'm at my limit, I'm not going to progress in strength or balance; I'm gonna always be sore,'" Skoro said. But Tudor helps build students' confidence, she said. "She believes in everybody, and because she believes in them, they believe they can do it, too."

"I always tell them age is just a number and you do what you can," Tudor said. "If you don't want to go too high, slow it down a little. Listen to your own body."

Tudor performs all the same movements her students do, with extra vigor.
Tudor performs all the same movements her students do, with extra vigor.

David Joles, Star Tribune, Star Tribune

Tudor's class is among the few places where you'll hear people competing to sound older. "I'm 82 — and a half," said one woman. "I'm 83, almost 84," said another. "I'll be 83 before she's 84," asserted the first.

Hans Gasterland gave his age as "69, almost 70" then admitted his birthday isn't until February.

"I've adopted 70 as my identity already," he said cheerfully.

Social aspect

Participants who extol their enjoyment of the class might not realize Tudor says that she needs it as much as they do.

"My life's pretty hard just lately," she said. "It just lifts my spirits."

Tudor's husband, John Tudor, a former professional soccer player in England, has dementia and can't be left alone. Three mornings a week their son, Jonathan, drives from Belle Plaine to relieve her so she can teach the class. But he's also a soccer coach with a busy life. So the rest of Tudor's time is spent as John's caregiver.

The couple moved to Minnesota nearly 30 years ago so John could coach. Tudor worked as caretaker of their apartment building. Having always loved exercising — "I was the girl champion of my school," she said — she took fitness classes. Eventually she had the idea to start teaching them herself. She acquired the qualifications and became an instructor around 2004.

Many of Tudor's students started in the years after that and have formed friendships. They gather for coffee, celebrate birthdays, meet for happy hours.

"The social aspect is very healthy as you get older — it can get kind of lonely if you're alone," said Eunice Schutt, 70, a longtime attendee.

"It's really fun to see how they take care of each other," Skoro said.

"I really don't like missing class," Schutt said. "We all leave smiling and so glad we came."