Build strength for a good life

“Strong legs, long life.”

This is the mantra voiced by Tom Purcell during the LifeFit class he leads on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the Simon Family JCC. It is just one among many positive thoughts Purcell shares during every class – all promoting fitness and wellness in body, mind, and social interaction.

A cornerstone of the class is building strong legs to support balance and upper body stamina. A staple of the exercise routine is standing and sitting repetitively while balancing a ball between one’s knees. The focus is on the legs doing all the work. While this exercise is initially met with groans, it ends with satisfying “oohs,” which Purcell says, he loves to hear. “Strong legs, long life,” he shouts out.

Indeed, strong legs are essential for supporting the spine and upper body. Along with that, nurturing good balance and building muscle to replace fat are also essential for longevity and physical independence. All the exercises which alternately employ hand weights and balls are designed to reach those goals. After standing and chair exercises, the class moves to mats for abdominal exercises and the ever-popular plank, a real barometer of overall fitness. Some participants can plank for more than two minutes, a real testament to the fitness level they have attained.

The Lifefit participants tend to be more than 65 years old, and the beauty of the class is that all the exercises can be self-edited to meet each person where they are in their personal fitness journey. Purcell often reminds everyone to do what they can, and he offers alternative modes of doing a given exercise. Even if someone can’t get to the floor on a mat, he offers alternative ways to get the ab work into a routine on a chair.

While physical fitness is imperative as people age, according to Purcell’s playbook, so is nurturing the mind and “social wellness.” One technique he uses to sharpen participants’ minds is to encourage everyone to remember the order and mode of exercises he leads each day, and he often mixes up the combinations to keep everyone thinking.

This is a very cohesive and consistent population of fitness seekers, and they love to visit and share their stories. Many have been exercising together for years. There is quite a buzz of conversation at the beginning of each class and there are sparks of kindness with inquiries and updates on those who might have been out for a while due to illness or injury.

Fridays are always a highlight with Purcell cooking up trivia competitions or asking for fun facts and favorite movies. Amidst the hard work there is a lot of humor and laughing. As Purcell often says, “work hard, but also laugh every day and remember to get in an act of kindness.”

To register or for class information, contact Tom Purcell, wellness director, at or 757-321-2310.