Meals on Wheels serving up longevity with exercise and wellness classes

Matt Lopinto leads seniors during the Young at Heart exercise class at the Concord Senior Center. (David Scholz photo)

CONCORD, CA (Dec. 12, 2023) — Working every part of their bodies, from head to toe and even to their fingertips, a room full of seniors are doing what they can to help keep the ticker ticking and maintain a youthful vigor.

The gathering at the Meals on Wheels Diablo Region’s Young at Heart exercise class reflects the changing needs of an aging population.

Since 2014, the organization’s emphasis on fitness, exercise and overall wellness for a senior citizen’s quality of life has been an extension of the central mission of delivering nutrition meals to homebound seniors.

The hour-long class, held at 9 a.m. Wednesdays at the Senior Center’s Parkside Circle complex, is among offerings at locations throughout Contra Costa County. Identified benefits of Young at Heart and other programs include improved balance and strength, reduced number of falls, lowered stress and increased energy.

According to Tuyet Iaconis, health and wellness manager at Meals on Wheels, the seniors may also experience a boost in social engagement and confidence in managing daily activities. Participants report functional improvement with activities such as climbing stairs, extended range of motion, and ability to open jars and packages.

“All our classes are evidence-based and shown to improve health outcomes,” said Caitlin Sly, Meals on Wheels’ executive director. “We have participants who, for example, have reported they can now take stairs one foot at a time when before they had to use two feet per step. These improvements may seem small but can really be huge for the elders we serve.”

Increasing socialization

Participants use chairs during the hour-long Young at Heart class sponsored by Meals on Wheels. (David Scholz photo)

In addition to keeping them healthier and more physically mobile, the classes also serve as a fun time to socialize and meet people who share similar interests.

“Many of the seniors we serve are socially isolated, and our classes are a reason for them to get out of the house each day and spend time with peers. We have many friendships that have begun during our classes,” Sly added.

The 25 residents, filling every available spot around the perimeter of the room on an early November morning, were certainly ready to take on whatever instructor Matt Lopinto had planned.

Pat Scholting of Concord, a newbie to the class, came away sold.

“I love it, and I’m coming back,” she said.

Scholting joined the class at the urging of her friend, Clayton resident Sue Crivello. They also both take a tai chi class, and Scholting sees this as a nice extension of the benefits derived from that experience.

Crivello even finds herself doing some of the exercises in her kitchen.

“It works every part of the body,” Crivello said of the Young at Heart class, which is made all the more enjoyable by the instructor.

Lopinto, who started off as a volunteer driver in the organization, has taught the class for a year since becoming a certified instructor for the fitness program. He has seen class attendance double during that period.
“They make the class happen,” he said of the folks who turn out and the enthusiasm they bring.

“I feed off their energy,” Lopinto continued, citing the laughter heard from participants.

Individual comfort levels

Students can sit or stand to do the different activities. Lapinto provides elastic resistance bands with grip handles for the stretching exercises.

The beauty of the class is that participants do what they can. Lapinto explained that if someone is in pain or uncomfortable, they are encouraged to take a break and re-engage when they feel ready.

“I let them do what they want to do,” he said.

From walking classes, line dancing, and balance and strength to those where participants play bingo and exercise, the more choices offered, the greater the interest, Sly said.

“We also have been able to expand the number of classes by training volunteers to be instructors,” she said. “We will train anyone who is interested, provide them the materials and a small stipend for their time. It is a fun way to volunteer and get your workout at the same time.”

Meals on Wheels’ health and wellness statistics further tell the story about who has been drawn to the variety of free classes. The majority of attendees fall between 60 and 76, with 88% female and 12% male. The breakout by ethnicity is 42% Caucasians, 23% African Americans, 18% Latinos,12% Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and 5% other.
“Our program has doubled in attendance in the past year and continued growth is expected,” Iaconis said.

For more information about health and fitness opportunities, click on programs on their website,

David Scholz
David Scholz

David Scholz is back in journalism as a freelance writer and photographer after nearly two decades in education. Prior to moving into teaching in 2000, he worked as a full-time journalist since 1988 for rural community and small daily newspapers in Central Ohio and Northern Nevada, and later in California with The Business Journal in Fresno and dailies in the Bay Area, including The Oakland Tribune and The San Francisco Chronicle. More recently Scholz also worked in an editing, writing, and page layout role with the Rossmoor News.