By Savannah Vasquez
Northwest Florida Daily News

Posted Dec 17, 2018 at 2:29 PM
Updated Dec 17, 2018 at 5:17 PM

FORT WALTON BEACH — Upbeat Christmas music jingled as 18 people — all between their 70s and 90s, donning reindeer antlers or Christmas sweaters — prepared for a holiday-inspired workout Monday at Your Fitness Connection.

“We cater to more than just seniors, but they are the heartbeat of everything we do,” said gym owner Malen Wagner. “You know when you have something special, when you have to get the class’s attention before you get started.”

Wagner explained that she was first introduced to an adaptive senior fitness program through her mother-in-law who was taking a similar class in Pennsylvania. Wagner said that she loved the idea so much that she brought it to the gym she used to work for in 2007. However, the gym abruptly closed in 2016, and Wagner said, she and her business partner Kim McCarty felt the need to continue offering the class for the sake of the clients.

“We fell in love with these people at the gym and when the gym closed, I was just like, ‘I love these people. What can we do?’” Wagner said. “We decided we would change the fitness format and call it Staying Strong Fitness, and all of these groups stayed with me the whole time.”


As the class began Monday morning, everyone made their way to a chair with a weight, a ball, a resistance band and a water bottle. Wagner started the song, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and led the class in some simple steps.

Soon, Wagner added movements such as “getting your elf on” or double stepping. Throughout the class, Wagner made sure to remind everyone to do their best even if they couldn’t do all of the movements.

“What if you say, ‘I can’t do all that, I’m tired.’ I want you to keep going,” Wagner said with a wink. “I’m going to take a break. But I want you to know you can do that, too. Everyone is different so be respectful towards your body.”

Glory Battle has been taking Wagner’s class for 10 years. The 86-year-old said she comes for both the fitness and the social aspect of the class.

“Malen really knows what we can and what we can’t do, and you don’t have to be ashamed of not doing anything,” Battle said. “Somebody said, ‘Does it do you any good?’ Well I don’t know how bad I’d be if I weren’t coming. She knows what older people need and she fits it to who we are.”

Art and Linda Lester are a married couple that have been taking Wagner’s class for just over a year.

“The reason we started coming is Judge Fleet,” Linda said pointing out another member of the class. “We went to his 90th birthday party and he was out there dancing up a storm and we said, ‘OK, we want to know, what’s your secret?’ And he said coming to these classes. So we said ‘OK cause we’re getting older and we need to get our groove on.’”

Art agreed that since beginning the class, he and his wife Linda have become more active.

“Oh we can do twist, we can do the monkey,” Art said. “This doesn’t embarrass you, it doesn’t wear you down and it makes you stronger. It’s like a family in here.”