Stepping to the beat Pacific-Island style

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At 90-plus, Mama Reva Ferguson flings her arms in the air and sidesteps to the music at the Pacific Island Presbyterian Church in Wellington's Newtown.

Others are also working hard to improve their mobility and fitness as they stretch, walk, and move to the cardio workout.

Mama Reva at full stretch in class

Organiser Lafulafu Vanila Ekenasio says there is a range of ages in the 40-strong group, down to the youngsters in their 60s.

“The main thing is to understand as we age, it’s not a bad thing.

“It’s just a part of life but we can choose to actually live a full life and a more productive [one] if we are all well and we are fit and healthy, and they can do more for themselves.”

Keeping older people mobile and independent is what the class is all about.

“It’s just keeping them well,” says Lafulafu.

“As ACC continues to remind us, the highest number of accidents are falls from the elderly so we’ve tried our best to incorporate [exercises to prevent] that into our weekly class.

“And strength - we actually do 1kg weights and one of our teachers is using bands so a mixture of everything because they are able and capable to be mobile.

“I think the other thing I really enjoy is their independence, that they can actually get around themselves.”

Paula Afuie, who is originally from Samoa, tries to come most weeks.

“First of all, I like to get out of the house and meet up with my friends and do exercise.

“It’s really helpful for me and my health, moving and stretching my muscles.”

Her friend Rangi Glennon agrees.

“I think that’s helped my life to last me where I am now.

“It helps to keep me mobile and I walk a lot, I like the exercise.”

Open arms and hearts

Grace Boyes has a sparkle in her eyes as she describes why she makes it a priority.

Grace Boyes is a regular at the class

“I won’t miss for anything. It gets me going, gets my energy, my legs, keeps it going.”

When Tafatoa Fuasamoa ‘Sam’ Isaako stopped working, he became a regular at the class.

“Part of this is making sure I have some form of exercise and that’s why I come.

“It’s a place to meet and talk and also [it] takes all the boredom out of staying home by yourself.”

All are welcome says Tafatoa.

“We have different nationalities - the majority’s Samoan, we have Cook Islanders, Tongans, Niueans, we have Asians, we have Europeans so it’s a mixture.

“We welcome anyone and everyone that wants to come and take part.“

Tafatoa arrives early so he can set up the chairs and the weights for the others.

He then heads to the kitchen to help with the shared lunch they have after class.

One of the four cooks, Emma Auelua, 76, also arrives early, often before 8am.

They take turns to do the shopping but then all pitch in to get everything ready.

Rangi at lunch table

Ms Auelua says she looks forward to coming every week.

“It’s good for us to have exercise because sometimes if, like me, I was going to walk but I did not. I’m doing work at home and forgot all about going to have a walk.

“This is very good because yesterday I looked forward to coming and doing the exercise today.”

The class has been running for 17 years and many of the regulars are close to each other and plan activities together, says Rangi Glennon (left).

“I like the friendship with members of the class.

“We go out and have a nice day out on a bus ride. We all pay our own. We usually go over to Masterton, over the hill, look at the gardens - it’s quite active and everyone loves it.”

Spring chickens at 60, rocking at 80

Lafulafu says the benefits are obvious.

“For them, it’s just amazing. They’re a blessing every time they come in each week.

“A lot are now turning 80, that’s the other blessing. 80 is nothing now, they are so well and so healthy. They call the 60s the babies, the spring chickens.

“A lot of them I’ve found are so fit their children are actually talking about it.

“So I hope that we are a tiny little part of a successful health community."

Lafulafu head and shoulders

It’s not only the fitness which is important she says.

“Mentally it’s very, very important that you have some sort of purpose or some sort of goal every day,” says Lafulafu.

“And as we get older, it’s just easier to pull the covers over, have a sleep if it’s raining, but I continue to encourage them.

“If your legs work, then you will work, and to just be useful each day, not useless.”

Lafulafu (right) expects the class to remain popular.

“I tell you, when they come in here, just the greetings themselves when they see each other – friends, and they look forward to each other, and to it.

“Isn’t that a great thing? To have hope, to look forward to something, to get ready to go out.

“I can only see it as a win-win, especially for the older people but also the community, down to the children and the grandchildren.”

For exercise classes designed for older people, contact your local community centre, church group or ACC.

Pacific Island class in action