Happy senior residents posing for a fun picture in their fitness class

Elevating Senior Fitness at Wesley

Wesley Fitness Supervisor Ruben Pereyra says senior fitness means much more than lifting weights and coordinating cardio movements. He believes social interaction, endorphin release, and happiness are as important as building strength and improving balance. His colleague, fitness trainer Angel Rodriguez, agrees. He adds that connecting with others is a key component of their classes at Wesley communities.

“However,” notes Angel, drawing on two decades of experience, “even if you work out alone, that endorphin release makes you happier, too.”

Ruben was already known for creating innovative fitness programs when he moved from California to Washington several years ago. Over his 16-year career, he’d created curricula for esteemed fitness institutions like Equinox and entire school districts. He felt a different calling when he relocated to Federal Way to be closer to his parents.

“When I came to Washington, I saw a huge need for a senior fitness revolution,” he says. “I focus on mind, body, and soul when I create my programs. At Wesley, we have fitness instruction seven days a week, accessible to all Wesley residents. I have also created a fitness library for our on-the-go residents. The sign of success for residents is not simply when they’re taking my classes; it’s when they walk outside my classroom and return to their daily schedule.”

Ruben incorporates brain exercises into all his programs. He uses cognitive reinforcement to emphasize the importance of proper balance and strength. His “Balance Through Music Motion” is a perfect example of this technique. He encourages class participants to become fully conscious of movement and establish patterns of motion they can replicate in their daily tasks.

“Yes, in my class, you are going to follow the Cha Cha rhythm to move from a squat to a heel position,” he says. “This movement can be utilized in daily living situations like when you’re looking for something on a low shelf or when reaching into a tall cupboard. It’s the same for chair exercises, where I encourage everyone to raise their glutes from the chair as if they are taking something from the counter.”

Ruben’s and Angel’s lists of participants for whom fitness, motion, and balance have improved many aspects of their lives increases daily.

“There are so many positive stories,” Ruben laughs. “But I’m especially excited for Eva, a resident who told me she wanted to focus on strength and balance as a memory aide. It’s completely changed her outlook, and she is enjoying the outdoors much more.”

Another resident had trouble walking before she began taking classes. Ruben worked individually with her in and outside of class. Today, with the aid of her walker, she is able to enjoy more lengthy strolls throughout the Wesley Des Moines community.

“She also discovered she was not alone in her limitations,” Ruben says. “She’s made a community of friends in my chair classes.”

When asked to highlight a specific Wesley Lea Hill class member, Angel praises Marcella. “She is 101 years old and comes on her own to my strength class every morning. She is an inspiration for every member of the staff and our entire campus.”

Angel is also very proud of the participants in his dance classes. He recently performed with residents at the campus’s Lawn Party.

“It’s an awesome event that gives people a chance to come together to share, laugh, dance, and have fun,” he says. He cites interaction with the residents as the highlight of his job.

“I send out a fitness evaluation every quarter. Then I create classes based on their input. We have an amazing program based on a great partnership where the residents give me feedback. I like being challenged this way by the residents to come up with new classes,” says Angel.

Ruben also maintains the highest regard for his relationships.

“When someone has a concern, my first response is empathy,” he says. “I let them know that I understand. After listening, I will create a plan and explain how this works best for them. I want collaboration at the end of the day. I learn so much, all the time, from the people who live here at Wesley.”

Few residents may be aware their instructor is considered a superstar in the fitness field. Ruben will soon receive the 2024 “Trailblazer of the Year” award, the highest accolade presented by the IDEA Fitness Association, the largest fitness association in the world.

“There has long been ageism related to senior fitness,” says Ruben. “We’re determined to break the stereotypes and make it fun again. It’s all about creating an enjoyable and engaging experience that promotes health and happiness.”