Join the club — so many options in Baltimore
When Marge Ewertz was working full-time as a nurse at Johns Hopkins, she started taking Mondays and Fridays off so she could bike with Cycling Seniors of Baltimore County, a group of about 150 bikers who are over age 60.
“I had to retire because I was having way too much fun biking,” Ewertz said. Now 70, she rides 3,600 miles per year and leads fellow bikers on rides each month.
“I love the Cycling Seniors because it’s such a diverse group. It’s fun to find out what people did before they retired. We communicate when we ride,” she said. “It’s just fun to meet people with all different backgrounds.”
We humans are social beings by nature. Indeed, scientists announced three years ago that loneliness is as bad for our health as smoking cigarettes or being obese. Another large study in 2018 found that loneliness increases the risk of dementia by 40 percent.
But it’s not always easy to make connections with others, particularly with COVID still in the background.
Fortunately, many clubs and social groups in our area are available to boost both mood and health. Most clubs welcome people of all ages, and regular attendance isn’t required.
Hiking Around Baltimore
The 20-year-old group Hiking Around Baltimore, for instance, has some members who are in their 30s and some who are in their late 70s. Hikes range from easy to difficult.
Retiree Greg Eder, who joined Hiking Around Baltimore in 2010 and now is a hike leader, has made many friends through the club — and even met a girlfriend on the trail.
“The older you get, the harder it is to meet people,” said Eder, who lives in Ellicott City. “People sometimes are intimidated coming to something for the first time, but in general, no one wants to hike alone,” Eder said. “There’s security in hiking in a group. You don’t have to worry about getting lost.”
During the pandemic, hiking has remained a safer way to be around people. Hiking Around Baltimore, which people can join on MeetUp.com, has amassed 8,500 members in its two decades (though not all are active).
Besides being a safe form of exercise, hiking can improve your mental health, too, Eder pointed out.
“It uplifts everyone. It’s nice to get out in nature and see something different.”
Learn pickleball through a club
If you’re curious about pickleball, you can join Northern Baltimore Pickleball Club, one of several such clubs in the area.
The club started with just five people in 2020. Two friends, Towson resident Kiki Alder and Cockeysville resident Ross Germano, along with their spouses and a fifth player, started playing pickleball outdoors together. Alder wanted to try the sport because she had suffered a brain injury, and her doctor suggested pickleball to help her recover.
“We just love it. It’s addicting,” said Alder, who played tennis in college and golf later in life. “It’s easy to learn — it has a short learning curve compared to other sports. It doesn’t require a lot of special equipment; it’s affordable; and you can learn in just an hour.”
Germano disagrees with her assessment. “I’ve been playing this for three years, and I still find it hard to learn,” he said, which keeps it interesting.
Their tiny group has expanded to include 380 players today. For $50 a year, members can play in 10 leagues (which range in ability from beginner to competitive), participate in mini-tournaments, or take a lesson to improve their game.
So far, they have to play on tennis courts, which are four times as large as pickleball courts, because there are no designated pickleball courts in Baltimore County yet. “Baltimore County is a little behind in embracing the pickleball craze,” Alder said.
Overcome challenges together
Of course, not everyone can or wants to go hiking or play pickleball. People with health problems can find common ground in support groups for conditions from diabetes to addiction to dementia.
For instance, people with Parkinson’s disease compare notes once a month via a Zoom session hosted by Baltimore-based Jewish Community Services (JCS). Michelle Goldberg, senior manager of community engagement and partnerships, oversees JCS’s dozen support groups and facilitates the Parkinson’s group.
“This group is very upbeat,” Goldberg said. “Someone was very nervous to come — he was struggling with [the diagnosis] — and a guy said, ‘Look at me! I’ve had it for 20 years.”
From their Zoom rectangles, each person asks questions, offers suggestions, recommends doctors, and talks about what exercises help alleviate symptoms.
“With Parkinson’s, it’s not an exact science,” Goldberg said. “When people offer each other ideas, it’s sort of like troubleshooting.”
Find Good Company on Zoom
When the pandemic hit, Goldberg and a colleague at JCS decided to do something positive: start a conversation group for ordinary people over 60 who may be stuck at home.
Three years later, about a dozen people continue to meet on Zoom on the first and third Wednesdays of each month for a lunchtime conversation called Good Company.
“We always start by introducing ourselves and catching up on what’s new,” said the group’s facilitator, Rozi Rice, volunteer coordinator at JCS.
“I’m there to encourage conversation, but we don’t put anyone on the spot…I have some icebreaker prompts to encourage conversation. We’ll play Family Feud or Jeopardy, so the hour goes quickly.”
One member said that before she attended Good Company, she expected to hear “a bunch of seniors complaining,” Rice remembered. But after the hour was up, she said, “I’ve never been around a group of more positive and engaging people.”
Another participant said that since the pandemic, “she has more virtual friends now than she has real-life friends,” Rice reported.
Rice, who is herself an older adult, said, “I get as much out of it as they do. It’s wonderful to see older adults who are active and interesting and engaging — and they’re all welcome.
“We would love to have anyone join us. We’re always happy to have new people,” Rice said.
Join Cycling Seniors of Baltimore County ($5/year) at baltimorecountymd.gov/cyclingseniors.
Find out about hikes organized by Hiking Around Baltimore via Meetup.com, an excellent resource for local clubs of all kinds.
Sign up for the Northern Baltimore Pickleball Club ($50/year) at ltrc.org.
For more information about Good Company or the Parkinson’s support group, call (410) 843-7325 or visit jcsbalt.org.