She is an avid bike rider. She rides from Brainerd to Merrifield and back every day in the summer months (the round trip is about 14 miles on the nearby Paul Bunyan trail). A couple of times a week she rides even further, all the way to Nisswa (a 32 mile round trip). The change in seasons and the arrival of winter doesn’t mean Helga stops exercising either.
“In the winter I like to snowshoe and cross country ski, and of course I always do my walking,” she says. Helga is 71.
She is also the teacher on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for the Bone Builders class at the Brainerd Lakes Area Senior Center. Helga has been heading up the Bone Builders group for the past six years. She first attended as a participant.
“We started out with just two or three people in class,” she said. “One day the instructor told me she was going to stop teaching and asked me if I’d like to take over. I didn’t know if I wanted all that responsibility but I thought about it and I said I would do it.”
Three people grew to a group of six, then ten and after a while Bone Builders outgrew its previous class space and was moved to a larger area. She has only missed class three times and today over 30 people are registered.
Each person is greeted with a friendly hug as they enter Bone Builders by Helga and her helper, Sandy. “It’s just the way we start our day,” she says smiling. “It’s almost like a family. You get to know each other so well.” Participants have to be given the go ahead by a doctor and then Helga eases them in to the routines. Class members have varied in age, up to 91.
These days when Bone Builders meets and most of the class, men and women, show up they count out the holds and repetitions with Helga as she leads the group. They do a variety of leg lifts and arm lifts, stretches and other moves like bending their knees and walking in between the exercises, that help them limber up and build strength during the half hour class. Soothing music plays in the background on a CD player as Helga moves from one exercise to the next stopping periodically for a brief break so the group can get a drink. These workouts will help them get rid of a few kinks and ward off osteoporosis, which causes bones to be brittle and weak, and other ailments. “You can use weights for some of the exercises. Weight exercise is better yet. A lot of people cannot do the weights, though and that’s okay. I tell them do whatever you can. They start out with half a pound or a pound weights.” Because she exercises regularly, she uses three pound weights at class. “At home I use my five pound weights,” she says.
Helga and her husband, LeRoy, have lived in the Brainerd area for over 20 years. LeRoy worked for Potlatch and Helga drove school bus for a few years. They have a daughter that lives in Colorado. Helga has always been a fan of exercise and has made it is still a big part of her daily life.
She likes it that she is an example to other seniors about how good keeping in shape can be for you as you get older if your doctor approves. “The only thing I’ve ever had done medically,” says Helga, “is I had my appendix out when I was a child.” She believes it is also part of the reason that she has been fortunate and is not on any medication.
Some of the members of the Bone Builder’s class have come to class after recommendations from their doctors. Others say after they’ve been in the class a while and go in for check-ups their physicians have noticed an improvement in their muscle mass and strength. “A lot of the girls say when they go to the doctor and talk about osteoporosis and osteopenia, the early onset of osteoporosis, their doctors have said say if you are able to do a little exercise it might not progress any further,” said Helga. “People have come to class and said the doctors have told them they should go to that exercise class at the center,” she says proudly.
“I get up early every morning while my husband is still sleeping. I go downstairs in our apartment where there is a workout room and I work out.” She said she spends about a half an hour on the Bow flex. “I’m very blessed. I feel pretty good. I do believe in exercise and I believe exercise and eating right are the big keys to staying healthy,” she says and she invites company to tag along. “I will take other people out snow shoeing with me if they want to go.”
Helga and LeRoy go to the senior center every day for lunch. And even though she was hesitant at first she’s happy she decided to teach Bone Builders three days a week, “I do enjoy that,” she says. “I’m a people person and there is a lot of nice people there,” she says.