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Survival of the fittest

June 30, 2015
by Sandra Hoban
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Wellness in older adults is a compilation of many aspects of mind and body. Staying physically fit, however, is one of the keystones of positive aging. The new generation of seniors grew up in an era where play took place outdoors. Pickup softball and basketball games happened in every neighborhood. And don’t forget kickball (forbidden today), Red Rover and plain old jump rope. In the 1950s and ‘60s, childhood obesity was not the national crisis it is today.

Today, those same children are now seniors. Over the years, physical activity might have fallen by the wayside, but with the proper leadership and training, many of these older adults are rediscovering the joy of movement and challenging themselves. 

As older adults transition from home to long-term care, opportunities to remain active can be scarce because of frailty or the need for assistance. To encourage wellness in independent and assisted living residents at properties they manage independently, Ebenezer Management Services and Augustana Care partnered to launch Centrex Rehab therapy company. The EverActive Wellness Club is a program developed by Centrex to encourage and maintain senior fitness through trainer-led group sessions.

The program is designed to build strength and reduce the risk of falls.

Because of the success of EverActive Wellness Club in the independent and assisted living segments, Centrex Rehab has adapted the program to meet the needs of more frail residents at Martin Luther Care Center (MLCC), an Ebenezer skilled nursing facility in Bloomington, Minn. “People in skilled nursing facilities aren’t as physically active because of chronic conditions and inactivity,” says Centrex Rehab Clinical Program and Education Specialist Debbie Hanka, DPT. She adds that the reduction of activity might be a result of the fear of falling. Rebuilding strength—and confidence—is a major aspect of the program.

Certified trainers conduct group classes three days a week. “EverActive is offered as a resident amenity and is not covered as a medical benefit,” explains Hanka. Two of Ebenezer’s properties do have a partnership with Silver Sneakers, which is feature on some insurance plans. In other venues, the resident-only program does charge a fee for participation. Formal enrollment in classes is not required. Classes are held the same time every day, although the fitness instructor and activity offerings might vary.

The Ebenezer communities offering the EverActive Wellness Club have found that their partnership with Centrex in providing this amenity has become a powerful marketing tool in attracting new residents. “The program varies among the sites and the fitness package they want to offer,” says Hanka. An added plus is that a resident—for an additional—fee can work with a personal trainer.

A program overview

EverActive Wellness Club conducts only evidenced-based programs, which are proven to be safe and effective in improving overall health, balance, strength and conditioning, including yoga. Many of the exercises and programs offered have been adapted to encourage more frail, less mobile residents to participate. For example, a person without compromised mobility will perform the exercises standing, while someone with limited mobility will be seated to achieve benefits. “Training is started at a low level and gradually increases as the participants begin building up strength and muscle tone,” says Hanka. Weights are incorporated in the exercise to build strength.

After discharge, rehab patients are encouraged to continue with the program to continue or maintain improvement in their physical status.

The equipment

“Equipment, in many locations, is the same as the fitness devices available at a health club,” says Hanka. Recumbent steppers, bikes, treadmills and weight machines are available at some of the Ebenezer location that have fitness centers.

In addition to a fitness center, the Martin Luther Care Center (MLCC), a skilled nursing facility, also offers a rehab therapy pool. “A treadmill is built into the base of the pool and includes jets that can be directed to target certain areas of the body,” Hanka explains. This low-impact, water-based exercise relieves stress on the joints.

Benefits of fitness

There’s a lot to be said for being part of an active group. “Exercise is an antidepressant. People are happier, brighter and able to do more for themselves. In addition to physical improvement, there the psychosocial aspect of feeling better,” explains Hanka. In class, residents make friends and some even find exercise partners, adding peer encouragement. Classes help residents build endurance. The physical activity focuses on balance, strengthening muscles and increasing range of motion.

Regular, professional fitness training goes beyond a regular activities program. Activities staff can engage residents in some simple exercise, but experienced trainers can monitor participants and safely help them to achieve their fitness or therapeutic goals. Hanka congratulates MLCC for its commitment in bringing this dynamic program to its skilled nursing residents. MLCC’s Lead Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator Theresa Martinson believes residents will enjoy participating and the program will make them stronger and more confident.