Here’s why seniors should join a Zumba class, according to a local instructor

Anya Avilov has been teaching Zumba to older adults in Fairfax County for seven years. Here, she talks challenges, health benefits and overall joys of the fitness regimen.

women in workout room with colorful bandanas above head
Anya Avilov (left) teaches a weekday Zumba Gold class in the Reston Community Center. (Photo courtesy of Anya Avilov)

On a weekly basis, you’ll find NoVA resident Anya Avilov in one of the many fitness studios in Fairfax County—including Reston Community Center, the Providence Community Center and Onelife Fitness Reston—teaching Zumba Gold classes to local community members. 

While Zumba combines dance and exercise into a high-intensity routine, Zumba Gold is designated specifically for older adults, ultimately building cardiovascular health and working the muscles of the hips, legs and arms with easy-to-follow dance instruction.  

Avilov is a certified instructor who has been teaching this fitness regimen for seven years, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Here, Avilov shares exactly what her experience in fitness has been like in Northern Virginia, and why Zumba is a great workout for those over 55.

Walk me through what one of your typical Zumba Gold classes is like and how it differs from traditional Zumba.

Music-wise, it’s Latin-inspired and there are dance moves involving, cha-cha, merengue, salsa. But also we add songs from the 50s,’60s and 70s, so people recognize and enjoy it. Music was such a big part of the youth of my students, and hearing those familiar sounds brings them joy. 

A normal Zumba routine has eight to 10 different moves where you add arm variations, and I normally include up to six moves for each song that are similar to one another. We review them from the start, rather than introduce them as we go like a regular Zumba class. Voice-over is also very important, as they like to hear what is coming next and what we are going to try. In regular Zumba, there is often no talking. I find they enjoy commentary and voice-over instruction. Plus, the overall intensity is definitely lower. 

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What are the some of the benefits seniors can gain from these classes?

It definitely protects your joints and muscles. Once you stop regularly moving, you stop utilizing specific muscles and they get weaker and eventually disappear. It happens much faster for the older generation, so when they practice Zumba there is constant movement and practice. It improves posture, coordination, balance. I tend to incorporate lots of balance movements for these classes, because it’s a key point in preventing falls and leading an active life. 

In terms of mental benefits, I’m a strong believer that laughter makes you stronger. And when these people work together for movements and they make a small mistake, they laugh like crazy. I really think laughter boosts mental health for older adults and for everybody. When they watch others in the room mess up, it increases their confidence and willingness to try new routines. They love dances they are familiar with, but they also really enjoy trying more complicated steps, ultimately improving concentration and memory. 

women with arms up dancing in a studio
Photo courtesy of Anya Avilov

Do most students make it a habit to come on a regular basis?

There are about 35 to 40 people that come every week to learn from me. The social aspect of this workout is amazing. They often come about 40 minutes before the class to chat with one another and they really look forward to this part of it. For some of the classes, I have to start music for them to really focus on the routine. 

What are some of the challenges involved in teaching these classes?

I think it’s very important for a Zumba Gold instructor to try and find out about previous health issues their students have, and ultimately understand alternative moves they can utilize. If there was a hip issue for example, you don’t cross your legs completely. With neck rolls, you make sure they don’t bend too far. The main challenge is seeing everyone and explaining carefully that it is okay to substitute moves, and that listening to your body is essential. Sometimes they really don’t want to. I always emphasize the importance of listening to your body. It’s never you can’t do it, just try it another way. 

What’s your favorite part of teaching these workouts in NoVA?

I just love when my students get better and enjoy life. They are like family to me at this point after so many years. For example, two friends who met in my class recently went to Australia with their families. They came back to tell me they were faster than some of their grandkids, and they told me they wouldn’t have been able to do it without my classes. Another student uses her cane less in day-to-day life now. And just recently, one of my newer students said she can bend down to get a toy for her dog and not worry about falling over, which she couldn’t do before starting my class two months ago. The entire experience is so rewarding. 

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