Local News

Fitness instructor specializes in keeping elderly fit

—Eve Mulkey spends the majority of her mornings, and some afternoons, at the front of the class in a gymnasium full of students.

The really great thing you’ll notice when you take one of her classes is that many of her students are at least as chronologically mature as she is. In fact, she also has a few students closing in on 100 years of age.

Mulkey has been teaching yoga for about 26 years and has studied it for more than four decades.

When she moved to Highlands County approximately 15 years ago, Mulkey began working with students of all ages at area fitness centers, offering classes in yoga and tai-chi.

Within a few years, she developed a specialty program for the elderly and contacted the The Palms of Sebring, an area retirement community.

Adele Dornheim, wellness director at the Palms, recalled her first meeting: “I instantly liked Eve when I first met her. She explained her yoga and tai chi programs, and I sat in on one of her classes.”

Dornheim immediately added Mulkey’s “Better Balance with Eve” class for Palms independent and assisted living residents, saying, “The residents totally enjoyed it. One of the goals of the wellness department is to develop programs that help our residents stay safe by reducing fall risks. The Better Balance class helps develop core strength; when combined with our weight class (which builds arm and leg strength) we can keep our residents supple and strong.”

Dornheim is right to be concerned about reducing fall risks.

According to the National Institute for Senior Health, “More than one in three people age 65 years or older falls each year. Each year, more than 1.6 million older U.S. adults go to emergency departments for fall-related injuries. Among older adults, falls are the number one cause of fractures, hospital admissions for trauma, loss of independence, and injury deaths.”

Mulkey is especially fond of her students at the Palms, because even though many are more than 90 years old, they are still coming to class twice a week and working hard. “Balance is our primary interest, being mindful of how we move,” Mulkey said. “Strength is somewhat a factor, as is keeping muscle tone.”

Eleanor Rollins, 92, has been a resident at the Palms for about 15 years and has taken the class since it started about seven years ago.

Rollins said, “We’re really pleased to have Eve here, because at our age we all need the help… this is one of the best things that we can do to help ourselves. I feel stronger and don’t have to use a walker yet. It’s very worthwhile.”

Judy Luke, 71, has been a volunteer assistant with Mulkey at the Palms for about four years.

“I’ve seen improvements in most of the people in our class as far as their balance, lack of shortness of breath, and their overall strength,” Luke said.

The Sebring YMCA offers Mulkey’s yoga class twice a week, at 10 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Judy Uccello, 75, has taken yoga classes at the YMCA with Eve for 10 years.

Following a major accident on a moped nearly 20 years ago that caused multiple, serious injuries, Uccello experienced severe pain on a frequent basis.

“Several vertebrae in my neck were damaged, along with other serious injuries,” she said. “In yoga, I learned the bridge pose and love it, am doing it at home to keep the vertebrae in my neck separated. It’s like traction pulling both ways and it releases those vertebrae so that the nerves aren’t being compressed.”

Her advice for those considering trying yoga?

“Unless you do the pose correctly, you won’t get the benefit. Eve’s the best teacher because she’s an expert on form and makes sure you’re doing it right.”

Susan Juda has only recently started Mulkey’s yoga class.

She has had multiple major medical procedures to alleviate neck and spinal conditions, and suffers from fibromyalgia.

Juda said, “I used to be very active, was in law enforcement. Yoga is now my friend. I can’t do all of the poses all of the time, but I can always do something…it helps to keep my body moving and keep going. I love yoga.”

Mulkey also teaches multiple classes in both tai chi and yoga at the Anytime Fitness Center in Avon Park.

Tammy Needham, Anytime Fitness manager, described Mulkey as “an outstanding instructor.”

“Her class focuses on teaching correct form while motivating members to master each pose. She adds an important value to our gym by teaching the most overlooked aspect in complete fitness - flexibility.”

James Scanlan has been taking classes with Eve for about 14 years.

“She’s a fantastic teacher, has great personality. I was always in mint condition and she’s been helping me stay that way,” he said.

Scanlan had hip replacement surgery about 20 years ago, and feels strongly that the “exercises in yoga and tai chi really make a difference in my strength, flexibility and agility.”

As with any fitness activity, the earlier you begin participating, the benefits are usually greater if you begin before injury or illness.

Mulkey recommends observing or taking a class because proper form is critical to seeing the health benefits and avoiding injury.