Fitness and Friendship: Learn the Secrets to Health, Happiness and Longevity

For Pauline Potrzuski, the secret to a long and satisfying life is ... water – and plenty of it.

Actually, it’s being in the water that gets the 89-year-old out of bed in the morning. “Some days I wake up and say, ‘I don't want to go.’ But it’s so refreshing. I just love it.” Her friend Anne McAtee, 83, agrees: “When I go, I feel better.”

The two women take water aerobics classes twice a week at the Troy Community Center through Splash Bash, sponsored by HAP. Both were referred by their doctors for back, hip and foot problems, and the exercise has been vital in keeping them moving. But a side effect they didn’t expect was the relationships they have formed with other attendees.

They have a standing lunch date after every class with a group of friends they’ve met at the pool. They vary the restaurants, giving everyone the option of choosing. And sometimes they eat at the senior center.

“We burn up the calories, then we go out to eat and put them back in,” Potrzuski jokes. But this time with other women is as essential to their health as the exercise, they say.

“You have to keep active,” McAtee says. “If you sit there and do nothing, you deteriorate.” 

 “The camaraderie is important,” Potrzuski adds. “It helps the day go by.”

And, experts say, being with people is one of the best things seniors can do for themselves. Older Americans who stay connected with their communities live longer, are healthier and happier. They may even be able to think more clearly than those who feel isolated, according to the National Institute on Aging.

Get out!

Find a water exercise class near you here.

Find a nearby senior center through the Michigan Association of Senior Centers at miseniorcenters.org. Search “directory.” Or call (248) 505-8228.

Meet Pauline and Anne

Pauline Potrzuski

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Family:
Five children, 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Many live in Michigan, but others are elsewhere, including one son in Alaska and a grandson in Seattle. Potrzuski's husband passed away in 1999.

Occupation: Drove a school bus for 30 years in Ferndale.

Lives: With her daughter and son-in-law in Troy.

Splash Bash: Started nine years ago.

“We all have problems,” Potrzuski says of her swimming buddies. “We talk about it, and we feel better. It helps to know that somebody else has the same problems. Nobody is afraid to bring up a subject that they are worried about and want our opinion on.”

When she moved to Troy to live with her daughter nine years ago, Potrzuski had no friends nearby, but Splash Bash changed all that. “These women took me under their wing. They had me going to lunch with them, on trips with them. I felt like I had lived in Troy all my life,” she says.

One trip in particular, to Mackinac Island, stands out. The group stayed at the Grand Hotel, with its historic porch overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, and enjoyed the regular afternoon teas with “Champagne, delicacies and cookies. The place is fabulous!” says Potrzuski.

Beyond Champagne and delicacies, she does all she can to stay active, including volunteering at the senior center, where she sends out newsletters and helps set up for sales and special events. She took up quilting to make heirlooms for all of her grandchildren. And when she has nothing going on with friends or family, she drives to the mall for a walk and people-watching.

Her advice: “Get out and move. Maybe you can’t do it all, but do it anyway. I can’t walk as fast as I used to, but I can walk. And keep friends close to you. You can always depend on friends.”

Anne McAtee

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Family:
Three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. All live in Michigan. Her husband passed away 30 years ago.

Occupation: Worked at Kmart corporate headquarters.

Lives: With her son, in a house she bought in 1975.

Splash Bash: Started almost 20 years ago.

McAtee’s friends at Splash Bash keep her active, she says. “If I hadn’t made those connections, I wouldn’t do as much. You need friends, especially when you are alone.” In addition to swimming and lunching together, the group takes advantage of activities at the senior center, including concerts, art classes and activities that range from board games to travel.

Water aerobics are her most regular exercise and have helped her heal from two hip replacements and from regular back problems. “The water makes me come back,” she says. She also rides a stationary bike at home. “I know I need the exercise,” she says. Splash Bash classes range from 20 to 40 participants, mostly women, she says. “There’s only a handful of men. They’re chicken!”

With family close by, McAtee always has company for holidays and special occasions. But most family members work, so she doesn’t depend on them for all her socialization. She’s also active at church and has another group of friends, all widows, who go to movies on Sundays. She gave “LaLa Land” a thumbs up, but “The Circle” got a thumbs down. Tom Hanks, she reports, just didn’t deliver.

Keeping active keeps her healthy, she insists. “I need it.” Equally important are the women she has met along the way. “I am a people person. I like to be with people.”

Categories: Get Healthy

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