Amy Taylor

Harry Funk/The Almanac

Amy Taylor poses for a picture with her Active@AnyAge class at the Spencer Family YMCA in Bethel Park.

It might be natural to wonder how “chairobics,” doing exercises while pretty much remaining seated, can be an effective form of exercise.

“My exercises look easy,” fitness instructor Amy Taylor said. “But when you sit down and actually try to do it …”

Fifty or so minutes after starting one of her Active@AnyAge group classes at the Spencer Family YMCA in Bethel Park, it becomes apparent it’s one heck of a workout.

And it’s a hoot, to boot.

“It has to be fun. If fitness isn’t fun, the students aren’t going to want to show up, so we have a good time in class,” Taylor said. “They all love Miss Amy, because I’m a goofball. I don’t take myself seriously.”

Her frequent jokes – “They’re all bad,” she admitted – help lighten the mood and make those 50 minutes seem to pass quickly, all the while endearing herself to her students.

“She is awesome. She puts a smile on your face,” Bridgeville resident Ed Forster said, pointing out a key component to the effectiveness of the sessions: “She aggravates you at the right times.”

That’s because Taylor takes fitness seriously. An instructor for 15 years, much of her work is with older adults, and she has developed Active@AnyAge exercises to address what she has seen to be people’s needs.

“Everyone is taking class for a different reason,” she said. “Maybe it’s for mobility, maybe for hand-eye coordination. Maybe they want to increase strength. Maybe they want an easier time getting up out of the chair.”

Some students are recovering from debilitating conditions, such as Carol Forster, Ed’s wife, who has had four strokes and a mild heart attack.

“I couldn’t walk steps. I couldn’t go down steps at all. I was taking the elevator for a while, but I worked my way up to walking,” she said. “I lost a lot of weight, too. I wear juniors now.”

Bethel Park resident Sueann Watson DeFurio, a survivor of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, started working out with Taylor as her personal training to gain endurance and range of movement. These days, she takes water aerobics classes led by Taylor, along with Active@AnyAge.

“I have been able to do so much more physically. I’m a big gardener. I am able to go out and bend the right way, and do all the things that I love doing. She helped me through all that,” Watson DeFurio said.

Active@AnyAge classes are offered each day of the week at the Spencer Family YMCA, with Friday’s session followed by a social hour.

“We’ll have coffee and doughnuts – or vegetables and granola bars, if you prefer – and we’ll just talk about life,” Taylor said. “I know them all by name. I know all their stories. In my classes, I don’t believe that you should just be a number. I think there should be a personalized aspect.”

Her approach resonates with students.

“It’s such a nice atmosphere,” Betsy Teichman of Bethel Park said. “I know a lot of people who come here, and I’ve met people here who have become friends. It is a social environment.”

An inclusive one, too: Taylor uses sign language in her Active@AnyAge and water aerobics classes to make sure that hearing-impaired people, such as Bethel Park resident Darlene Jury, can participate.

“Amy’s a lot of fun. She explains things in detail,” she said. “She knows what she’s doing and does very good exercises. You feel good when you leave here, not only physically but mentally.”

Juliann Brzozowski, also of Bethel Park, recently participated in her first Active@AnyAge after taking water aerobics sessions with Taylor.

“She is very energetic, a real motivator, and her classes are wonderful,” Brzozowski said. “She makes them very interesting.”

The exercises she leads involve the likes of one- to three-pound weights, elastic stretch bands and balls to complement stretching and movement to provide a workout “from tip to toe,” as Taylor likes to say.

“It’s not just about doing the exercises,” Taylor said. “It’s a lot more than that. It’s the whole experience, so that when they leave class, they feel more able, more positive. They feel better about themselves.”

For more information about Active@AnyAge, contact JoAnn Guilfoil, healthy living director, at 412-227-3806 or jguilfoil@ymcapgh.org.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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