The short answer: Retirement homes make activity easy. Fitness centres with classes in yoga, pilates, chair yoga, and more make exercise a routine part of life for people. Get fitter with friends around you. Families looking to help loved ones get their health back on track should consider a retirement home for this aspect alone.
Ask Mary Gradantini her favourite thing about Harmony Hill Retirement Community in Oshawa, and you might be surprised. “The exercise program,” she replies, in a heartbeat. She happily describes it: “They start off with cardio. That’s about 20 or 25 minutes. Then there is stretching and then they work on balance. It covers everything that is required.”
Her enthusiasm is, in fact, typical of seniors in retirement communities. “One thing nearly all of our residents have in common is their desire to be as physically active as they can be. It’s impressive how many people come out to exercise classes every morning,” says Shelley Snoulten of Holland Gardens in Bradford, Ontario. In a community of people the same age, with others involved in regular fitness, it’s hard not to feel some peer pressure to join in the fun.
“I really enjoy it. A lot of my friends do, too,” says Gradantini. “It’s always the same people.” She celebrates the way classes are tailored to the abilities of participants, too. “We have people that are there with walkers. There’s a program for people where they can exercise no matter what their mobility. They accommodate everyone.”
For many of us, a trip to the gym is an inconvenience, so it’s easy to take a pass some days. At Credit River Retirement Residence in Mississauga, Gordon will tell you it’s easy to get into the habit of regular exercise “because it’s right in the building.” He goes to classes there, rhyming off a list of things he enjoys, like “yoga, tai chi, aerobics.”
Florence Kasoian at Caroline Place in Hamilton also loves how easily accessible her daily exercise classes are. “We do upper body one day and lower body the next,” she says. “We have a lot of exercises that I go to.” On top of those daily classes, she likes to do yoga on her own. “When you’re 93, you have to use your body,” she chuckles. “Your bones are tired and so you have to wake them up a little.”
Of course, there are other more obvious health benefits to exercise. One of them, critical for many seniors, is that it also incites appetite and weight gain. When Madatali moved into Mulberry PARC in Burnaby, post-surgery, he weighed only 94 pounds.
After moving in, he decided to establish a routine that included prayer, meditation, and daily exercise.
“I like boxing, I like dancing, I like [playing] pool,” and he does all those things in the community. “I exercise every day. Exercise is very important for everybody,” he chides. After several months of this regime, he’s ditched his walker for a cane, with a goal to set that aside someday soon, too. “After one and half years, I have good food, exercise, and everything. Now I weigh 150 pounds,” he says proudly.
That increased health has led to a more active social life, where he now joins many activities there, visits with relatives, and plays a mean game of Bombay Rummy. Madatali’s turnaround is a fitting example of how communities like his encourage a new outlook on life, not only through exercise alone but the social aspect that goes along with it. That turnaround is deeply satisfying for family members, and makes the challenges of moving very worthwhile in the end.
Brenda is one daughter who attests to this, when talking about the effect The Manor Villages StayWell Manor had on two older loved ones staying there:
When my mother and mother-in-law moved into StayWell, they exercised together, and it didn’t matter that my mom was wheelchair bound. She would do tai chi or whatever… Even though they were in walkers, [the easy] movement [in the community] was just so critical. It definitely prolonged their lives in a very positive way
Editor's note: This article originally appeared in the 2022 Comfort Life Retirement Guide