Do our retirement communities and residences have beautifully laid out and furnished fitness areas that gather dust? Do we have exercise classes that are either poorly attended or emphasize fun over fitness? Do we rob our residents of building physical activity into their daily lives by taking away some of life’s challenges for the sake of convenience or habit?
Too MUCH Fun?
Is there such a thing as too much fun in a fitness class? We’d hate to think so. After all, leisure and activity programming in our retirement residences should be fun, otherwise only a few die-hard fitness fanatics will attend. To cast as wide a net as possible, we need to reach out to the most sedentary in the most effective way we can. To do that, we need to include as many elements of fun, camaraderie and sociability as possible. However, there is a danger that we can overemphasize the fun aspect to the detriment of the fitness aspect. Too often activities that are supposed to promote fitness don’t challenge our residents enough. Do our exercise classes promote the components of fitness essential to remaining independent and active or are they just time fillers on our busy residence activity calendar?
There is also a danger of making our exercise classes too general in nature so that we don’t pay attention to the differences in ability among our residents. Some of our residents may need more attention paid to improving balance, others muscular strength or cardio-vascular endurance. Although we cannot provide one-on-one training in a group exercise class, we can offer some variations on the “one-size-fits-all” approach in our programming. Offering more than one type of fitness class, making use of volunteers or staff to assist the fitness instructor for more concentrated attention to some participants, or making some aspects of the class a circuit format where participants choose a particular activity that best suits their needs, are some ways to achieve this.
Practice what you preach
There is a danger that we can do too much for our residents that robs them of opportunities to build physical activity in to their day—every day. There is no sense in having staff wheel a participant to a fitness class where she will be standing or walking just because it’s quicker than waiting for her to walk there unassisted. A better idea would be to remind her to leave extra time so that she can arrive safely on time, on her own! The danger of too much sitting has been studied extensively. It is a real contributor to ill health and chronic disease as people become more sedentary and less active. To combat this we should promote more walking and less sitting. Social calendar notices are usually placed where people gather—outside the dining hall and beside the elevators. Try putting these notices by the rarely used staircase or fitness room instead. Maybe place a general note by the elevator announcing a particular event with a notice that more detail can be found on the poster by the staircase.
Thinking beyond Exercise
Are we robbing our residents of much needed physical activity outside of our exercise classes? Promote physical activity in a creative way! Being physically active is more than just attending an exercise class two or three times a week. It is building physical activity into our residents’ lives every day! Instead of employing a gardener to look after the grounds entirely on his or her own, how about forming a gardening club where residents assist the gardener or grounds keeper. Perhaps we could implement a community vegetable garden and residents could be involved in growing some of the vegetables that the kitchen staff uses. Perhaps some of our residents could help in maintaining some of the property through painting or woodworking to add finishing touches to a new outbuilding or garden shed. As an incentive, residents who help in maintenance could receive a reduction in their rent or a subsidy. This may appeal to residents and give them a sense that they are still involved in maintaining their home, much as they did when they were living in their own homes.
We know that no amount of physical activity can stop the biological aging process. However, there is mounting evidence that regular exercise can minimize the physiological effects of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. It can also increase active life expectancy by limiting the development and progression of chronic disease and disabling conditions. There is also emerging evidence of psychosocial and cognitive benefits that come from regular exercise participation by older adults. So, let’s maximize the opportunities for physical activities in our retirement communities!