Be Well

Paynesville SAILers Build Strength and Stamina


The SAIL (Stay Active and Independent for Life) class at the Paynesville Area Senior Center in Paynesville, MN, is positively impacting the lives of Paynesville residents.

Paynesville Zoom class

Fondly referred to as the SAILers, this group of 20 dedicated women is improving their physical fitness, while building social connections that are getting them through the isolation associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Participant Pat Korman, age 73, says, “I didn’t have a social outlet during COVID until our SAIL class went on Zoom. For many of us, the class is a connection that gives us a sense of belonging and it’s helping me physically too. I recently had gall bladder surgery and was told that I recovered faster than most people my age. My nurse said it’s because I am physically fit, and I knew it was from three years of SAIL classes.” 

Building balance and strength

Paynesville SAIL class leader Amy Carlson says, “Exercises that improve balance and strength are the single most important activity older adults can do to stay active and reduce their chances of falling. The SAIL program helps people do that when done regularly.” Amy’s overall goal is to keep her students active while staying safe. She encourages them to start slowly and carefully in the beginning and work their way up at their own pace. “Strength training has helped people in my class, and so has getting heart rates up through the aerobic exercises.”

Pat came to Amy’s class after taking the Juniper Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance class. She enjoyed Tai Ji Quan, but when a classmate suggested they take SAIL, she says she was hesitant because she isn’t fond of exercise, but eventually decided to give it a try. “When I first joined, I couldn’t bend down to put weights on my legs to build muscle strength, so Amy would strap them on for me. After about three weeks in the class, I could do it myself!”

Paynesville SAIL class on Zoom

“I have to admit that when I first started SAIL, it was the longest hour of the week, and now it’s the shortest,” says Bev Johnson, age 83. “I’ve built strength and stamina. And now, I also walk every day.” Bev also likes the social side of SAIL and is happy that she can attend class in person, but also spend time with classmates on Zoom who are still more comfortable joining virtually. The Zoom connection intentionally begins 15 minutes early to allow time for conversation before class begins. “I’m looking forward to getting back to having coffee in person,” says Bev. "We usually bring treats and stay after class to visit.”

Amy sees the value of the social aspects of her class. “Paynesville is a small, cohesive community. COVID helped us realize the importance of the little things and made us value our friendships more. It also got people to check in on each other. We take care of each other.”

Finding the right level of activity for each individual

It is apparent that Amy cares deeply for every participant in her class and describes herself as a “mother hen.” She strives to make sure everyone is okay and not pushing themselves too hard. She also checks in with class members through their SAILers email group. “I send a message out every other week to get feedback and ask for input because I want to run a beneficial program for them.”

It’s clear that the Paynesville SAILers appreciate Amy. “She is a genuinely caring person, and it is wonderful,” says Pat. “She is very encouraging and asks us to participate from wherever we are and whatever shape we’re in. People have turned on their phones and joined the class from Florida, and we’ve had kids and grandkids join in as well. We hold each other accountable, and make sure we get to class.” Bev says, “This class is a positive thing in my life all the way around. If my health changes and I can’t do it all, I will still go to class and sit during the exercises I can’t tolerate. Amy says we have to keep something moving all the time, whatever it is, even if we just tap our toes.”

Everyone is welcome

The SAILers also make new classmates feel welcome. Bev says one person who joined the class was quiet and withdrawn because she thought no one would like her. “I made sure I talked to her during every class. She wore a lot of pretty tops and I complimented her on them, and I think it made a difference.” Pat is sure that it did.  She says, “Bev is a whiz at making people feel comfortable. I treasure her.”

With a goal of staying active with where she is now, Bev encourages people to, “be as good as you can be at your age.” Pat recommends giving a SAIL class a try. “See if you like it and if you do, make the commitment. Eight weeks is a short time period in your life. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

“I’m very blessed to lead and coach these people,” says Amy. It’s a one-hour class that meets three times a week for eight weeks, and then it starts over. Most Paynesville SAILers repeat the class because of the benefits and the friendships they have made. We’ve become a family.”

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