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Having a ball

Brenda Larson led participants through the steps at a recent Drums Alive class.

If you go to Knute Nelson Wellness Center in Alexandria, you may be in for a good beating. But chances are, it will make you feel like a kid again.

A new exercise program at the center, Drums Alive, has residents and community members alike drumming their way to good health.

"It's an aerobic workout, but it's simple and easy," said Brenda Larson, certified instructor of the class. "You laugh, you sweat, you break the rules. It's a new dimension in fitness."

Drums Alive combines Tyko drumming of Japan and tribal drumming of Africa, helping the brain and the body work together. According to Larson, it elevates the alpha and beta waves of the brain.

"And because you are doing things right and left handed, it fires the neuropathways in the brain," she said. "It has a lot of sweet benefits."

In the class, participants stand behind a stability ball, a set of drumsticks in their hands. Using stackers, the balls can be raised to the appropriate height of the exerciser. For those with physical limitations, the exercises can be performed in a seated position.

Participants quickly learn a series of simple patterns, such as hitting the ball four times on the sides, four times on the top, and clicking the drumsticks together. All the while, upbeat music is playing and participants drum and move to its rhythm. The program uses simple cardiovascular movements to the beat of drumming, working the body, mind and spirit.

The benefits of drumming have been proven for people with Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, bipolar personalities, diabetes, asthma, cardiovascular and chronic lung disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and multiple sclerosis.

While Drums Alive is an excellent upper body workout, it also incorporates lower body and abdominal muscles, using various simple dance steps, marching, and moving up and down.

"Your arms are working all the time," said Diana Baker, a member of the class. "She [Larson] also has your feet moving all the time. All the while you are doing something with the drumsticks."

Now in its second session, Baker couldn't resist taking the class during its debut this summer after she peeked in during the first class and saw what a good time everyone was having.

"It's one heck of a lot of fun," she said. "You get in shape and have fun. It's so upbeat. It's a different way to exercise."

Another benefit to the class is that people of all ages can participate. In the first session, drummers ranged in age from a 7-year-old girl, to a 91-year-old woman, Evy Stone. Stone's initial motivation for taking the class was different than Baker's.

"Every time I've been to a concert, the percussionists had more fun than anyone," Stone observed. "I was fascinated by their movements. I decided I'm not too old to play a drum."

Stone doesn't regret joining in the fun. A victim of five strokes, she says that the class has helped her get her coordination back. She also insists that it has helped with her memory.

"It's a release from any stress you might feel," she said. "I loved it!"

After the success of the eight-week summer pilot program, Drums Alive started again September 16. Currently, the 45-minute sessions are set up twice a week for six weeks. The current session will go through October 23 with the next slated to begin November 11.

The class is open to the entire community. For information or to sign up, call the Wellness Center at (320) 762-4317.

For those hesitant exercisers, Drums Alive is a way to incorporate physical activity without it seeming like a chore.

"If it ain't fun, forget it," Larson said of any exercise program. "You have to bring some joy into it. Otherwise it's just more pain."

Stone agrees and thinks that with Drums Alive, you can't miss a beat.

"I think it's so much fun. I just felt like I was alive again," Stone concluded. "You feel like a child again. It's just sheer joy!"