At a recent workout in Los Angeles, twenty shadow boxers throw their fists in the air, shouting and counting their punches. But unlike most gym classes in the youth-obsessed city, everyone in this room is over 65 years old.

In partnership with Jewish Family Services and Partners in Care Foundation, Cedars-Sinai has started offering free exercise and health-management classes at local community centers. The classes are designed to help seniors avoid two of the biggest threats to their wellbeing-; falls and loneliness.

"Social isolation can have the same negative impact on a senior's health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day," said Allison Mays, MD, a geriatrician at Cedars-Sinai. "Isolated seniors are 50% more likely to die than someone who is socially connected."

Falls can be just as dangerous. In 2016, falls lead to the deaths of 30,000 seniors across the nation, a 30 percent increase compared to a decade earlier. "It is vital that we address these issues as part of someone's overall health and part of their care," Mays added.

Effect of exercise classes

Mays and other geriatricians helped organize the free exercise classes, which include weightlifting, stretching and balance exercises that can be adapted to any level of fitness.

Developed by the Arthritis Foundation, the program increases senior strength and balance and has been shown to decrease the risk of falling. Meanwhile, the group activity fosters friendships while increasing confidence.

Programming will expand over the next three years-; Tai Chi and advanced weightlifting will be added-; thanks to a $625,000 AARP Foundation grant. Cedars-Sinai hopes that giving vulnerable older adults the tools to stay fit and social will help them keep their independence.

"We are so excited that our new AARP grant will help us play a bigger role in the national effort to decrease social isolation in seniors," said Sonja Rosen, MD, associate medical director, Geriatric Care Programs and chief of Geriatric Medicine for Cedars-Sinai Medical Group.

"We hope that the thousands of patients we enroll over the next few years will reduce their fall risk and social isolation. Patients who are socially engaged are healthier and more proactive about their health care, which reduces potentially avoidable trips to the ER and hospitalization," said Rosen.

That sounds great to Victor Herzog, one of the boxers at the recent class held at the Pan Pacific Senior Activity Center. He said the twice-weekly workouts have helped him stay active after a bout of dizziness and trouble breathing sent him to the Cedars-Sinai Emergency Department.

"Since then, I had just been staying at the house, and that is not my personality at all," said Herzog, 79. "I am outgoing and love meeting people." He got a flyer in the mail after his hospital visit and liked that the class was free and within walking distance of his home. Herzog enjoys the workout, the encouraging coach and being around other people.