One visit with Jeanette Woods is enough to get anyone exercising. Displaying a ready smile, shoulder-length blond hair and a graceful bounce in her step, the 25-year-old Astorian exudes robust health. And she's soooo enthusiastic about her job, which is to get senior citizens involved in fitness.

Those seniors are 50 or so full-time residents at three Astoria facilities: Clatsop Care Center, Clatsop Bridges Care Center and Clatsop Retirement Village. "Our goal is to keep these people as independent as possible for as long as we can," says Woods, who speaks with the confidence of someone honed by success. Her clients are men and women, and they range in age from 55 to more than a century old. Community WellnessFor most people, no matter how old, there's no excuse not to exercise. The Clatsop Care Health District's Wellness Program offers weekday activities for local seniors ranging from aquatic classes to one-on-one personal training sessions. "Lunch & Learn" Wellness Seminars are held monthly at Clatsop Retirement Village, 947 Olney Ave., in Astoria. The next seminar, entitled "Osteoporosis and Aging," begins at noon Nov. 21. Cost is $3, which includes lunch. For information about the any of Clatsop Care Center wellness activities, contact Jeanette Woods at 325-0313.

"We want clients to be self-reliant, to be able to perform everyday tasks such as getting dressed in the morning, cooking and doing their laundry," explains Woods. Exercise promotes self-reliance and the belief that clients can take care of themselves, she adds.

Woods' exercise venues aren't the basketball or tennis courts, all-weather running tracks and well-equipped workout rooms that many younger folk use. On most weekday mornings she takes seniors for water therapy sessions at the Astoria Aquatic Center, leads short walks along the city's riverfront trail and instructs fitness classes at Clatsop Retirement Village.

While basking in the Aquatic Center warm water pool, clients maneuver styrofoam dumbbells in and out of the water, jog in place or simply walk in the water. "They don't even have to get their hair wet if they don't want to," says Woods.

On the paved waterfront trail, she leads as many as 10 seniors on short strolls. All of them push a wheelchair or a four-wheel deluxe walker with a seat attached so they can stop, sit down and rest whenever necessary. "We began walking an eighth of a mile last summer," says Woods. Now most everyone is hoofing it for a half mile, an increase she terms "a pretty big stride."

Fitness has always been important for Woods, a Beaverton native who graduated from the University of Montana with a health and human performance degree. She competed in the high jump and ran the hurdles at Aloha High School west of Portland and was a cheerleader while attending college in Missoula.

Following graduation, Woods accepted a position as a fitness instructor and personal trainer at a Hillsboro health club. After relocating to Astoria, she worked in a similar capacity at fitness centers in Long Beach, Wash., Warrenton and Seaside. Since May, she has been employed as the health and wellness coordinator at Clatsop Care Center, a not-for-profit residential care facility housed in the former Columbia Hospital.

"We make sure we're not stressing their bodies," Woods says about her clients. Some participate in a program called P.A.C.E., an acronym for People with Arthritis Can Exercise. "It's mostly gentle seated exercise emphasizing balance and coordination," says Woods. She tries to make activities functional and fun - kicking or tossing around a beach ball, for example. "As long as clients are moving and doing something, it's worthwhile," explains Woods, who is certified by the Oregon chapter of the Arthritis Foundation.

Ever energetic, Woods envisions fitness and exercise on an even grander scale. "We've established a senior wellness program for the greater Astoria area, and we want the community to join in," she says. In addition to exercise classes, the walking group, the aquatics classes and the P.A.C.E. program, Clatsop Care Center's Wellness Program also encompasses monthly "Lunch & Learn" wellness seminars at Clatsop Retirement Village and one-on-one personal training sessions.

Most seniors agree with the benefits exercise brings. "I think we're very fortunate to awaken each morning with something to do that is good for us, and done with a circle of friends," says 85-year-old Lillian Austin, a resident at Clatsop Retirement Village.

Still, not everyone is into working out. "I have clients who put me off, and question me every step of the way," admits Woods. But then she's dealing with a population that didn't grow up exercising, at least not in a recreational sense. Woods is quick to add that local seniors aren't lazy. "But some of them think I'm crazy when I go out and run."

When she was employed at the Hillsboro health club, Woods never envisioned working out with seniors but has changed her thinking about the gray-haired set. "They are so much fun to work with, and they appreciate what we're doing," Woods says. "They're just a blast."

Richard Fencsak is the co-owner of Bikes & Beyond. His column runs the second and fourth Thursdays of each month in The Daily Astorian.

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