When Margaret McCullough prepared to start a new session of the Active Older Adult Program she leads at the North YMCA, one of the participants breathed a sigh of relief and commented, "At least you're not one of those skinny young things."
"I said, 'I know there's a compliment in there somewhere,' " the 60-year-old Clintonville resident recalled last week.
McCullough is an age-appropriate instructor offering age-appropriate instruction to older people seeking to be more physically active.
Maintaining health was what led McCullough to become a fitness instructor.
About six years ago, she said, she developed some health problems just as she was preparing to retire from a career with State Auto Insurance.
Following her physician's advice to do some general exercising, McCullough found a personal trainer.
"I was one of those who did a little bit of bicycling, swimming, but that was about it," she said. "I didn't have a regimen down that I did routinely.
"I found benefits of an exercise routine, and having just turned 60, I have found that it really does help with the mental aspect as well as the physical and strength aspect."
McCullough took to exercise so readily her trainer suggested she become certified as a fitness instructor through the YMCA of Central Ohio.
She did, and when North YMCA officials began to increase exercise activities for senior citizens, the then-retired McCullough was available during the day to lead the Active Older Adult and Silver Sneakers programs at the facility on Sandalwood Boulevard.
She knows from personal experience that there are some barriers senior citizens must overcome before they are willing to begin an exercise regimen.
"The first thing they need to know is they just move," McCullough said. "If they're not feeling good or they feel achy, they need to just start moving."
The level of activity in the classes is based on participants' ability and ranges from "really, really working hard to just moving around," she said.
"If you can get them to move, the second barrier is, 'I don't feel comfortable with a 20-year-old in front of me telling me how I should be exercising,' " McCullough said.
What participants find when they do overcome those obstacles, she added, is the degree of camaraderie that develops among the members of the class, many of them widows and widowers.
"This may be the only person-to-person interaction we have all day," McCullough said.
"They become a tight-knit group. We've had potlucks. We've had field trips. We've had game days. That kind of social interaction is really a plus."
Leading the Active Older Adult Program has certainly been a plus for McCullough.
"I get the joy of seeing these people, a lot of them, coming out of their shell, building and increasing their strength and stability," she said. "They come out of these classes and they've told me, 'I feel like I'm two inches taller.'
"It really is a pleasure for me seeing these people able to move easier," McCullough said. "I get a nice workout at the same time."