Gloria LeBlanc spent the last Wednesday of the year the same way she spends most Wednesdays. She had her morning cup of coffee, exercised with around 40 of her friends and played board games at BREC Independence Park with members of the Busy Bodies.
It’s a routine LeBlanc recommends for other seniors in the Baton Rouge area.
Sheila Smith, the center’s head of adult leisure programs, said she stays busy organizing several senior programs for folks like LeBlanc who want to stay active. She started her day supervising the assembly of new table tennis equipment.
In a room at the back of the park’s community center, Smith pointed to a photo of the Busy Bodies group.
“Don’t they look like they’re having fun?” Smith said, adding that the exercise program stresses low-impact movement for cardiovascular conditioning.
Smith said having fun while you exercise is a key to keeping fitness in your routine.
Smith, 82, who has worked with BREC for 12 years, said she enjoys meeting new people and helping folks stay active.
The average age of the Busy Bodies members is 80.
Cheryl Michelet, director of communications for BREC, said programs like the senior exercise group and a popular Tea Dance held every week at BREC’s main building on Florida Boulevard provide seniors a way to stay active.
The Tea Dance, which gets its name from its afternoon start, draws a crowd of around 100 each week who enjoy refreshments and dancing.
Musicians perform “high energy” music, Smith said, adding that the seniors enjoy fast-paced dances and “not that slow stuff.”
The dance has been around for more than 30 years and has seen a few marriages and courtships blossom.
Despite that longevity, many in Baton Rouge don’t know about the senior programs provided at Independence Park and other parks around the parish.
Michelet said a series of community meetings held in the last two years highlighted BREC’s current program and revealed new programs residents want to see developed.
She said BREC’s Imagine Your Parks Plan meetings gave residents a chance to provide comments on the future of BREC parks.
“We’re always looking for new trends … and trying to respond to meet interests” of the residents, she said.
Renovation projects have started at several parks, and residents should see improvements all around town.
Recent renovations at the Florida Boulevard facility included updates to its upper deck area. Batting cages and workout areas were added so children and adults can exercise together.
The area also features pingpong, video games and inflatables.
Michelet said it is important BREC provides spaces where people of different ages can get together “to have a good time.”
Many parks will see added adult fitness equipment.
“We want to give everyone a chance to get out and get active,” she said.
There’s an indoor track at the North Sherwood Forest Park so residents can walk or run in bad weather.
The Independence Park center has indoor tennis courts.
BREC’s two BREC on the Geaux mobile units even bring exercise to parks and neighborhoods to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
The mobile units were purchased thanks to a partnership with the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.
LeBlanc said she appreciates the effort BREC put into providing ways residents can stay active.
She credits BREC and its programs with “saving my life.” Smith said many of the Busy Bodies members turned to the program after an illness or death of a spouse.
Leblanc, Sallie Segura and Janet Davis — all members of Busy Bodies — said they enjoy the friendships they’ve made and the opportunity they have to get together every week.
The trio said they plan to continue meeting three times a week this year at the BREC park.
“We just love it here,” Segura said.
For more information on BREC parks and programs, visit brec.org.