Patriot Ledger // Published October 2, 2018 // Sue Schieble

The Fitness Center at Quincy College is helping local seniors to keep moving, stay active and maintain muscle strength into their 80s and 90s. Dr. Wayne L. Westcott, chair of the college’s Exercise Science Program, also conducts research and recently found combining exercise with high-protein foods helped people keep weight off after losing it.

In the basement of Presidents Place, below a bustling mall and the Adams National Historical Park visitor center, a quiet revolution is taking place. Working out with the latest exercise equipment, people in their 70s, 80s and 90s are building muscles, strengthening bones and setting themselves up to rely less on medications used to treat common conditions of aging.

Gladys Petkun, 89, comes to the Quincy College Fitness Center two days a week and works out on a series of 11 weight machines. Quick to smile, she is small in stature and large in determination. She squints her eyes as she slowly pushes her feet forward on the leg press. Petkun has been so successful at maintaining her bone density that she has accomplished what many others do only with medication, which she cannot take.

“It’s fun,” she says.

Across the room is Bob Clark, 82, a former Army Special Forces member and demolition worker who found himself nearly crippled by arthritis in his neck and arm injuries from a car accident. After focused workouts with Bob Corbett and other fitness center staff, Clark’s neck and upper back earn him bragging rights: he lifts 115 pounds on the upper back machine, where most people his age would peak at 60 pounds.

“You feel so much better,” he says.

I met Petkun and Clark after receiving an email from Sally Owen of Quincy.

“I have always hated gyms and never went much, despite having osteoporosis and doctors telling me I needed to do strength training,” Owen, 70, wrote. “Finally, I read that Wayne Westcott was doing an eight-week study on strength training free for participants. I figured I could handle a gym for eight weeks. I was surprised to find that I really liked the challenge of seeing how much I could increase the weights over time and I have been going twice a week for two years!”

Owen is a member of the Quincy College Fitness Center founded by Westcott, a nationally recognized researcher and trainer who chairs the college’s exercise science program. “I think the center is really well designed for older people,” Owen said. “I met a guy in great shape last week who was 92. The staff is very well trained and incredibly knowledgeable and can provide one-on-one guidance. Staff and participants are very friendly. I think others are reluctant to do certain forms of exercise and would find this gym really welcoming and supportive in helping them to exercise safely at whatever age and with whatever abilities.”

Of course, there are other excellent fitness programs for seniors in the area; many people have a favorite personal trainer or gym setup. The late Natalie Loomis of Marshfield was a Curves fan at age 90. I’ve written about 102-year-old Ruth Kundsin and trainer Dick Raymond at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy.

Vivian Quint, 84, of Quincy and other women in their 80s have also told me about the Quincy College program.

“Before I started there in 2015, I had tried a couple of other venues,” Quint said, “but no one made me feel as comfortable as the staff at the fitness center. Going twice a week put some structure into my life. I also have a sense of ‘belonging’ – something else that’s missing in a retiree’s life. Most important: It gets me off the couch and moving. Some of the other exercisers are in my age bracket, which is very comforting at my age. The staff is very warm, welcoming and helpful. I would encourage anyone, especially people who are worried about being embarrassed, to exercise there.”

Quint is also hearing impaired; even with a cochlear implant she has difficulty hearing well. One of the trainers, Samantha Vallier, also has hearing loss and works with clients with her hearing dog, Debbie, whom Quint describes as “a person in a dog’s skin.”

The Quincy College Fitness Center has a free workshop the first Friday of every month from 1 to 2 p.m. On Friday, supervisor Rita La Rosa Loud and instructor Pam Hurley will show a resistance band exercise for shoulder rotator cuff muscles.

Westcott, who received a doctorate in physical education in 1977 from Ohio State University, is the author of 28 textbooks and hundreds of newspaper, magazine and journal articles. He has done many research studies showing the effects of combining exercise with lifestyle changes, strength training and protein supplements.

A recent Quincy College study tested a six-month weight loss program with nine months of followup weight maintenance to help people reduce fat and rebuild muscle without regaining the weight once they stopped the low-calorie diet. “Effects of Resistance Exercise and Protein on Body Composition Following Weight Loss” was published in the July 2018 edition of the Journal of Clinical Exercise Physiology. Low-calorie diet programs typically reduce muscle mass and lower metabolic rate, prompting weight regain when the diet stops. The Quincy College study featured two weekly exercise sessions and optimal protein intake to prevent muscle loss, metabolic slowdown and weight regain. To read the full study, visit the Journal’s web site.

To contact Westcott, email him at or call 617-984-1716.

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