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Santa Barbara’s Sally Saenger Has a Lifelong Passion for Fitness


Santa Barbara’s Sally Saenger Has a Lifelong Passion for Fitness

Riding the Wave as a Senior Fitness Ambassador

By Leslie Dinaberg | August 25, 2022

Sally Saenger teaches a swim class at Los Baños during the pandemic. | Credit: Courtesy
Read all of the stories in “Our 2022 Active Aging Guide” here.

With the NCAA allowing college athletes to start earning profits from their likenesses, sponsorship deals have gotten a lot of press recently — but Gen Z doesn’t get all the glory. Santa Barbara athlete and fitness instructor Sally Saenger was named a 2022 Senior Planet Sponsored Athlete at age 66. A competitive surfer and a member of the PE department at Santa Barbara City College since 1982, in addition to teaching both credit and noncredit classes in town, with this award Saenger has added senior fitness ambassador to her résumé.

“I liken it to being Miss America or something because you have to make appearances, so to speak, on their website and do a couple of blogs and lead a couple presentations,” said Saenger of her Senior Planet responsibilities. “My presentation was very successful; they had a lot of people that were interested in it because it was about balance for seniors. And that’s always of interest for older adults.” 

At a recent fitness event, Sally Saenger shows off what could be her motto: “Aging with Attitude.” | Credit: Courtesy

That presentation, which evolved out of a class she teaches for SBCC School of Extended Learning, then evolved into a series of four sessions of online classes that became so popular that  Saenger is now teaching for Senior Planet — a program created and sponsored by the national nonprofit Older Adults Technology Services (OATS), which formally joined the AARP family as a charitable affiliate in 2021 — and working for AARP. 

The importance of keeping both an active body and an active mind is threaded throughout her classes. “It’s about attentiveness,” she explained. “We talk a lot about cognitive health too.” Though she’s been a lifelong fitness instructor, it was the Senior Planet sponsorship and AARP affiliation that inspired  Saenger to finally launch her website — lifelongfitness
.org — as a home for information about all of her various classes, blog posts, and other great information for people who want to live an active, healthy lifestyle.

Saenger herself is certainly a great role model. Born and raised in Santa Barbara, she swam as a child and played basketball, softball and swimming in high school. But she wasn’t too into surfing until she went to University of Hawaii (after two years at SBCC) to get her degree in recreation. After that she mostly surfed and swam for fun and fitness, then started entering surf competitions in her mid-forties. She was honored to be invited to surf in the “Lady Legends” division of the Rincon Classic contest this year and told Senior Planet, “I was the oldest female participant in the event and proud of it!”

“I try to get in the water once a week,” said Saenger. “But that’s not always possible during the summer because Santa Barbara doesn’t have very good surf during the summer months, because the islands block swells. So I do go down to Ventura or maybe I’ll go visit somebody up north.” 

To complement that, she also swims on a regular basis. “Swimming is really one of the best activities, especially for seniors; they don’t even have to worry about balance,” said Saenger. Her Swimming for Conditioning class at Los Baños begins August 29. For more information, visit sbcc.edu.

Some of Sally’s Top Tips for Getting and Staying in Shape

Think about what you want to do and then look in the community and see what is available. “There are quite a few free classes or very low cost classes at SBCC, the S.B. Rec Department, Goleta Valley Senior Center, and online.”

If you don’t want a group fitness situation: “Just start being active; start walking, find areas that are a little more challenging, like on the sand or that have hills, or that are a little more interesting. Maybe go on a hike somewhere. Just incrementally increase the recreational physical activity.”

For older adults, the main focus and the main issue is maintaining stability and balance.“And maintaining good cardiovascular and good cardio-respiratory endurance, but balance is probably the main one. And that means strength training. … We lose muscle mass as we age — it’s just natural—unless you’re paying attention to it. So we have to be more attentive to what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. And strength training will help you be able to do all those ADLs (activities of daily living). You’ll feel better and you’ll want to do more.”

Stretching and flexibility are important too. “You want to be able to give a little bit; you don’t want to just tip over because you’re so stiff — and it makes you feel better. Balance and strengthening and the cardiovascular and flexibility — try to include those on a weekly basis, you know, once or twice a week for each of them.” 

A lifelong athlete, Sally Saenger started surfing competitions when she was in her forties. | Credit: Courtesy
Read all of the stories in “Our 2022 Active Aging Guide” here.



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