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Yoga-Loving Seniors Reject Exercise Equipment for the Elderly

By Amy Zimmer | November 8, 2011 8:07am | Updated on November 8, 2011 8:33am
The "body fitness" class for seniors at John Jay Park uses the park's benches for their exercise. Many park users do not want additional exercise equipment, though someone wants to donate four pieces.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE — A group of seniors, who regularly practice yoga in John Jay Park, are rejecting efforts by a local philanthropist to install special exercise equipment for the elderly in their park.

The park, a 3.3-acre greenspace between East 76th and 78th streets overlooking the East River, may soon be one of the first in the city with space set aside for seniors — but plans have been held up by a clash over the type of exercise it will promote.

Community Board 8 members said that an anonymous donor has offered to donate four pieces of equipment geared toward older users to the park, and is currently in negotiations with Parks Department officials about installing them.

However, many elderly residents who live near John Jay Park say they don’t want to accept the gift.

Yoga enthusiasts at a recent board meeting said their immediate need is for a soft-ground material to help during their weekly yoga and fitness classes. They also want more classes, such as tai chi, to go along with body fitness and yoga routines, and trainers to supervise them as they exercise.

"I have been a member of the exercise program that started last fall, and it's wonderful," Marcia Reese, 82, who lives on East 77th Street, told board members at a meeting last week.

"We exercise for an hour with a trainer. Seniors, I believe, need supervision. … What we don't need is equipment."

Reese told DNAinfo that she doesn't even use the gym in her building because there's no trainer.

"What happens if I fall down?" asked Reese, who attended Monday's free morning "body fitness" in the park under the watchful eye of instructor Menna Olvera, who gently corrected participants as they did bicep curls and other moves.

John Jay's senior park area has been discussed for two years. City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin secured $250,000 for the renovation, and the community board approved a plan for new benches, chess tables, a soft ground and exercise equipment in 2009.

Still, no work has begun on the project, which might cost up to $1.2 million for the entire "adult" area, according to the community board.

The possibility of the equipment donation arose a few months ago, board members said.

The community has not seen any images of the equipment, but CB 8 Parks Committee co-chair Peggy Price told residents at Thursday's meeting to visit Outdoor-Fitness.com for examples.

"It will be gentle, low-impact equipment geared to older adults. It's something you can’t find in gyms in our area," the committe's other co-chair, Barbara Rudder, explained.

"It's a unique concept in our country," she said, noting that this type of equipment is popular in Europe, China and Israel.

"Innovation is sometimes scary," Rudder added, but "a donor has proposed providing the equipment because her family feels so strongly about it."

Several park-goers questioning who would pay for upkeep worried that the equipment would need a lot of maintenance. Some expressed concern that the equipment would attract teens.

Regardless, the city wouldn't necessarily accept the gift, Parks Department manager Mark Vaccaro said at the meeting.

"Obviously, it's great to get donated equipment," he said.

"There's never a guarantee we can accept a donation. We have very stringent requirements. We haven't used this equipment before, so it hasn't been vetted."

John Jay has a newly renovated playground for kids, an outdoor swimming pool, and basketball and handball courts.

Some of the area's older residents said they should seize the opportunity for the exercise equipment, like Marilyn Much, who welcomed something "free and available to the public without having to go to expensive gyms."

The area designated for the park's older users is 130 feet long, Rudder said, claiming that the equipment could co-exist in the space with the senior exercise classes. 

"There's no argument that there should be exercise classes," Rudder said. "There's enough room for the classes."

Residents age 60 and up comprise 20 percent of the Upper East Side's population, according to Department for the Aging data.

No renderings have been provided to show how the equipment would be placed in the park, and the identity of the donor remains a secret.

In a survey of more than 100 park users conducted by the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, the majority said they used the park for "relaxing and quietly enjoying the view."

Twenty-seven respondents said they would use tables for dining and games, 25 said they would attend exercise classes, and 12 said they'd use exercise equipment.

"We have a community that's already using the park," said Terry Grace, a volunteer at the green space. "We have a lot of people who love this park the way it is, and we don’t want to change it too much."

Local resident Reese also said the classes have helped residents meet each other.

"You're supposed to get up, get out and move, and that's what we're doing," she said. "What the seniors need are good teachers and good classes."