Each new year ushers in resolutions to get in shape. You can find an abundance of tips and advice for people under age 65, but many folks over that age can't see how it applies to them. Their reasoning against exercise can include "too old;" "too disabled" or "too much risk of a fall."
Nancy Knutson, the lifestyle director at Crestview Retirement Community is out to change seniors' misconceptions of exercise. This year, she created the W.A.L.K. Program for residents living in the community as a way to raise awareness of the value of exercise and a healthy lifestyle. The acronym stands for Wellness Activities to increase Longevity and Kuality of life.
"For seniors, the operative phrase is not 'get in shape,' but rather, 'improve health,' so we focus all our programming around the six dimensions of wellness-physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional and occupational. The W.A.L.K. plan is a way to challenge people to make lifestyle changes that can have a positive impact on their health."
Each month the W.A.L.K. meeting introduces information designed to encourage the adoption of new, vitality-enhancing habits. In January, residents were challenged to increase the number of steps walked each day by 100. The meeting kicked off with an overview of the health benefits provided by the pomegranate fruit, followed by a taste test of pomegranate smoothies paired with granola bites.
Residents left the meeting armed with information on the number of steps from the main elevator to the Bistro, the steps down each hallway, and the steps around the entire building. They left with a chart that converts miles or minutes spent on the community's treadmills and in other exercise classes into steps.
Crestview offers 12 different exercise classes each week to residents in its Arbor Oaks Independent Living community. The classes include strength, cardio and flexibility components and range from chair yoga, to strength and stretch, tai chi, ballroom dancing, chair aerobics, low-impact aerobics, Xertube, pilates, balance, breathing, and water aerobics.
Most classes are taught by Knutson or Pam Milner, a local instructor, but resident Jim Thompson teaches the Wednesday morning class. A retired physical therapist, Thompson leads residents through exercises for all muscle groups, from facial expressions, to general body toning, all with a dose of good natured fun and humor.
"I stress good posture in particular," said Thompson. "We tend to slump as we grow older, so I take them through exercises that work on neck muscles that help keep the head erect. We also work on abdominal muscles to help alleviate sciatic nerve pain."
Exercise for seniors is crucial to living with vitality and preventing injury, and exercise that is tailored to the aging body can provide the same benefits that vigorous exercise can achieve in younger bodies. The trick is to adopt exercise habits that strengthen core muscles and flexibility. Should you fall, stronger muscles are more conditioned to absorb the impact.
"I encourage people, regardless of their age, to increase physical activity and strive to be the best they can be," said Knutson. "It's never too late to start."