For fitness instructor Teresa Hilliard, staying healthy and fit has been a priority for a long time.

For fitness instructor Teresa Hilliard, staying healthy and fit has been a priority for a long time. Her mother’s health issues were a major influence on Teresa’s decision to be as active as possible every day in order to avoid the sorts of problems her mother experienced. Her dedication to exercise has become a three-decades-long career, enabling people in their 40s through 90s to benefit from the twice-weekly workouts.

This month, she is celebrating her 20th anniversary of forming the Functional Fitness Exercise Class in Lansing. The class is a popular way for local residents to not only stay active and in shape, but also to make close friendships.
“We have so much fun,” said Teresa.  “And we also get together for a picnic in the summer and a Christmas party. I take a personal interest in each participant. If someone misses class more than a couple of times, I usually check in to see if everything is OK. And it’s not just me. Other members will also check in with participants who may have been away for awhile. And sometimes, just meeting for coffee is in order.”

No one in her classes is expected to do anything they feel is too physically demanding, but those who are able are given a challenging workout that includes warm-up, low-impact aerobics, weights and band use, balance work, stretching and range-of-motion work.
“It’s easy to stay motivated when you’re having fun,” said Teresa. “And actually, I encourage each participant to listen to their body and make any adjustments necessary during class. For example, if they are capable of working harder, they have that option. However, if they need to slow down, modify, or stop, they have full permission. I use that same approach in my personal training. I’d rather have someone look forward to working out instead of dreading it.”

While the aerobic portion of the class is what participants seem to enjoy the most, Teresa also works in some squats, which she says is students’ least favorite activity.
“I don’t want to scare anyone away,” she said. But she assures students that there are a lot of ways to modify squats if they are concerned about their knees.
“I started working out with Teresa around 2002,” said class member Chris Aus. “I have done step aerobics, yoga, stability ball, Zumba and now have graduated to Functional Fitness. Teresa is an amazing instructor.
“She brings people from all walks of life together and turns them into friends. We have gone from bringing our own children to class with us to bringing our grandchildren with us.
“She makes exercise fun and is concerned with keeping us all strong and moving. Teresa is more than an instructor. She cares deeply for each person in her class. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this class?”

She stresses that the benefits for seniors to keep moving are numerous and that being part of a fitness class is not only physically beneficial but also great for mental and emotional health due to the support of the group.
“Many friendships have been made in this class,” said Teresa.
Opportunities to teach fitness classes have arisen in many locations because Teresa is an Army spouse. And when she and her husband moved to Lansing in 1997, she immediately began looking for a place to teach.

“I began teaching low-impact aerobics and step aerobics at the Lansing Activity Center,” said Teresa. “And I am extremely grateful to the city of Lansing for allowing me to teach there all these years.
Over the last 20 years, I also taught stability ball classes, yoga, and Zumba. I began teaching what was then known as a “Senior Fitness” class in 1998. I was lucky to have five participants on a regular basis. But word spread and the class began growing. I soon learned that I could create a class suitable for all age groups. That’s when I re-named the class ‘Functional Fitness.’ I no longer teach the other classes. Instead, I focus on the Functional Fitness class and my personal training business.”

As physical challenges increasingly become greater as people age, she tailors her class to meet the needs of participants. “Arthritis and balance issues are two that immediately come to mind,” said Teresa. “Movement is so important. I really can’t stress that enough. The risk of falling becomes greater as we age. That’s why we also work on balance in class.”
She also believes that people could manage their health and perhaps avoid the need for some medications via regular exercise, which could also lessen the potential for high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes issues.

For those who already suffer from medical issues, exercise is beneficial and could help alleviate some of the symptoms.
For older people, Teresa believes that core strength is very important.
“Performing exercises that help strengthen your abdominal and back muscles can help with posture and balance,” said Teresa. “Because participants have to focus on coordination during class, it’s a great way to exercise the brain, too.”

“I enjoy working out with the class because it gives you motivation,” said class member Jerry Geis. “The class is perfect for getting in a cardio workout and stretching to help with range of motion, something that is important as we age. The class is ideal because you pay to play, that is you pay when you attend and not if your schedule keeps you away.”
Teresa and her class had planned a celebration to mark the 20th anniversary of Functional Fitness but they decided, due to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, to forego the party and instead donate to the relief effort.
“I have also encouraged my class to register for the Hustle for Hunger 5K to be held Oct. 22,” said Teresa. “This event provides funds for the Backpack Buddies program in Leavenworth County. This is a great way to get some exercise and help our community.” To register for the event, visit www.hustleforhunger.com

For Teresa, the most satisfying part of helping older people stay fit and active is when they tell her their doctor has encouraged them to keep doing what they’re doing. She also loves to see them smile during class and when they tell her they now have something to look forward to. Good times in class are common and Teresa remembers them well.
“Oh my goodness. We laugh all the time. We have some die-hard KU fans, and K-State fans, among others. But I’m a Kentucky fan, so they give me grief all the time,” she said. “Years ago, I was setting up my music and turned around to find that everyone had left the gym. Then, all of a sudden, they paraded down the hallway into the gym using various props such as canes, walkers, etc. I asked what they were doing and they replied, ‘You seem to forget how old we are, so we thought we’d remind you.’ Of course, they were joking. So I demonstrated how to do squats using a walker. We all had a good laugh.”

For people who believe they are too old to exercise for an hour two times a week, Teresa’s response is “You’re never too old. I have some very fit people in my class, but I also have participants who are not able to do as much. They just do what they’re capable of. That’s one thing that’s so great about this class. There’s no pressure and no competition.
To find out more about the class, contact Teresa at thilliard@prodigy.net or call 913-240-9619.