Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Are You Talking Senior Wellness TO Residents, or WITH Them? (Part 2)

Now it is time to apply what you learned in Part 1. Let’s look back on some key points:

  • Only 12% of the U.S. population is health literate.
  • Health and safety information should be delivered on a fifth-grade level.
  • “Why” is a crucial question to ask and to answer in resident wellness.

Did you think about how you and your clients communicate and how instruction is delivered? Do you talk to your clients, or do your discuss with your clients? Let me ask you this: How often are you creative with your answers? How often do you use analogies that can be seen in the everyday world?

The Power of Analogies in Senior Fitness EducationThinkstockPhotos-529580019.jpg

I love using analogies. The body is an amazing machine, but also a mystery to many. I know we have all explained osteoarthritis many times over in our careers, but how well is the message getting through to the client? We can try to explain that the cartilage in the knee has slowly been worn down over time due to previous damages that may have occurred.

Now imagine that you have no idea what cartilage is, or can’t picture it. Would anything after that word mean anything to you? Probably not. So let’s put some visualization to this. Cartilage covers bones where they will meet with other bones and rub together. It is like a wet plastic sheet. Over time, damage happens because of impact from the many falls, running, and jumping that we have done. It also becomes more dry and brittle as we get older. Because of the damage and the dryness, the bones do not slide across each other smoothly anymore. The rough surfaces rubbing together will cause more damage, and the moist plastic lining is not there anymore to stop the bones from rubbing together. This explanation took a little longer, but I also know that the client now has a good picture in their mind of what is happening inside their knee.

Perspective and Visualization

One surprising statistic I learned while in my physics class in college is that if you hold a gallon of water straight out in front of you, your shoulder has about 100 pounds of pressure on it, even though a gallon of water is approximately 8 pounds. This is a statistic I am always passing on to my senior wellness clients. It can be very hard to understand why such a small weight is so difficult to lift, and maybe even painful. Some even feel embarrassed that they can’t lift a larger amount of weight. As soon as I tell them this, there is always a light bulb that goes off, along with surprise, of course. Again, the body is a machine. Machines follow the laws of physics, but how many of us can explain physics well enough for a fifth-grader to understand? Visualization is key.

Working with Plain Language: A Training Manual, written by William H. DuBay, has a great deal of information on the background of plain language, why it is necessary, and how to apply it in all manners.

One of our greatest joys as health, wellness, and fitness specialists is seeing the people we work with succeed. So let’s find that common ground where we are not just talking to our clients, but discussing with our clients about their health, wellness, and happiness.

Interested in how you can do wellness better for your residents?  Grab our quick read below to see how you can better evaluate your wellness offerings in your senior living community.

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Topics: senior wellness senior fitness resident wellness programs education communication

Are You Talking Senior Wellness TO Residents, or WITH Them? (Part 1)

4399_KF_3334-1.jpgIn the fitness and health field, we are asked for advice continually. It is our job to build fitness routines that are safe, comfortable, and something our clients will actually build into an overall resident wellness lifestyle. The difficult part always seems to be creating a program that they like that also fits around all contraindications of diseases and ailments, and having them not give up after a week.

The Importance of Communication in Senior Fitness Education

After observing many fitness professionals with their clients and many years in practice myself, I noticed that one of the greatest obstacles is neither of those two problems, but our ability to communicate with the client and find that connection for them. I’m not talking about the connection of personalities and ability to get along, but that connection where the client understands your thought process and why you are putting them through the “torture.” Education is the key to our success with the clients, and it is how that education is delivered that matters most.

So stop and think about how you deliver your educational pieces. Most likely you lay out your fitness plan. Then you demonstrate the plan. Then at the end of the talk you ask if they have any questions. Of course they reply “no” or “when do we get started?” They have not asked the one most important question that we learn to ask when we are two, but become afraid to ask as we get older: “WHY?”

  • “Why are we doing this exercise?”
  • “How does it help?”
  • “You mentioned the muscles that we will be working—what do they do?”

Anticipating and Answering Residents’ Senior Wellness Questions

We as practitioners already know why we are doing this, so we forget to pass that knowledge on. We move on to demonstrating the exercises and correcting their movements and posture as they do the exercise, until they look like a pro to anyone coming in, but they still are not quite sure why they are doing that exact movement.

I may be one of the biggest “older” kids out there, but I still love the question “Why?” I truly feel that if we understand why we are doing what we are doing, we will stick to it better. Also, if we understand a subject it is more interesting to us. If it is more interesting, we tend to want to try to learn more and become proficient. The trick becomes how to properly educate and make a lifelong plan with our clients rather than just doing it to our clients. We have to know that those why and how questions are running through their heads and take the initiative to help them answer the questions they don’t even know to ask or how to form.

Making Wellness Communications Easy to Understand

The next challenge is the client understanding what you are saying. The Quick Guide to Healthy Literacy, a fact sheet produced by the United States Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, states that “only 12 percent of adults have proficient health literacy.” Impact Information Plain Language Services’ newsletter reports that all health and safety information should be delivered at a fifth-grade comprehension level.

Health information is difficult for most people to understand. There is no difference in the world of wellness. We are asking our clients to trust what we are saying and what we are telling them to do, but many do not understand why they are doing the exercise we are teaching or how those exercises will help make them feel better, possibly decrease potential for chronic diseases, and even lessen the severity of other chronic diseases.

Think about this information and think about what you do. Do you work with your clients, or do you talk to them? You will probably find there is a little of each happening. Watch for part 2 to learn some tips on how to work with your clients and help them enjoy the wellness they are working with you to achieve. 

Senior living communities commonly miss out on the opportunity to have a qualified person on staff to help guide residents in the fitness center.  

Click below to check out our quick read, The Impact of Staff on Senior Fitness.

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Topics: senior wellness CCRC fitness center senior fitness education communication

Reasons Why Your Resident Wellness Program Shouldn’t Be Clinical

As communities have continued to adapt their concepts of and practices around what it means to provide wellness for residents, we have seen program offerings, cultural shifts, and amenity updates that really run the gamut. Some organizations have molded their own definitions of the dimensions of wellness along with branding symbols and adjustment of community taglines. In other cases, senior living communities are just putting a toe in the water by beginning the wellness dimension conversation with residents and employees.

There’s plenty of room for creativity; communities absolutely can (and should) put their own stamp on how they intend to execute on resident wellness. But there’s one trend I’ve seen in resident wellness that gives me pause: situating wellness in a clinical setting with a clinician at the helm. The most common articulation of this is tasking a registered nurse (RN) as the community wellness director and positioning all things wellness from the home base of the clinic, which is called the “wellness center.”

Differentiating Factors for CCRC Prospects

I’ve written before about the two primary areas in which communities can position themselves to senior consumers as being a better living option than aging at home. The first differentiator is in the area of care/safety for seniors as they age. The other primary area where communities can stand out from competition lies in residents’ opportunities to experience new places and people, to learn new things, to engage in stimulating discussions, and to participate in strategic reminiscing—all in ways that are unique to a community culture.

That second differentiator is your wellness program; it includes programs/events, dining, the physical environment, social opportunities, spiritual connection, emotional care, and intellectual opportunities. It may touch, or run into, a clinical environment. But situating your wellness program in a space that provides primarily reactive care to illness misses the boat entirely and sends a mixed message to your residents.

Creating an environment that maximizes well-being requires us to get our heads out of only physical health (and I mean fitness too). It requires adapting the dimensions of wellness into a person-focused framework like the one offered by The Eden Alternative’s domains of well-being.

Blending the Factors Dilutes the Senior Wellness MessageIMG_2740.jpg

Whether or not an RN with the right background can build your programming strategy and support a built environment that truly facilitates resident well-being depends on the knowledge, skills, abilities, and passions of the RN. I would suggest, however, that physically housing your wellness program in a medical environment, such as your health clinic, will limit your ability to deliver on a message of distinction about what it means to live well in the community because you’re blending the care/safety distinction with the wellness differentiator. By marrying them both that tightly, you’re diluting the message. For seniors who know they need the clinical support but aren’t quite ready to address that for themselves (and how many prospects are psychologically in this place?), they won’t hear a message about wellness that stems from the clinical care.

I’m not advocating that the clinic and the wellness offerings operate in distinct silos. I am, however, suggesting that wellness doesn’t start with medication management, blood pressure regulation, or access to a podiatrist. Helping individuals be individually well begins with understanding what creates purpose for them. The clinical care is a byproduct of age. Choices on how to live well are core to who the individual is. Attention to that fundamental element of each resident deserves staff and spaces that are dedicated to the lifestyle you’re promising each resident.

Interested in knowing how you could do wellness better for your residents?  Click below to find out how NIFS can assist you with wellness consulting.

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Topics: senior wellness CCRC marketing resident wellness programs

Pickleball for Senior Fitness at CCRCs

Two years ago a member of my CCRC fitness center came to me and asked if I had ever heard of pickleball. I told him I hadn’t, so he explained it to me. A month later a member of our sales and marketing team asked me the same thing; this made me do a little research of my own.

ThinkstockPhotos-471663643.jpgPickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, and results in a senior-friendly game that addresses the many health concerns seniors are faced with every day, like poor balance and hand-eye coordination, depression, and the many symptoms usually associated with decreased cardiovascular fitness, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

Why the Game Is Great for Senior Fitness

We all know someone who is not quite steady on their feet; that person might even be you. Well, what if I told you pickleball could help with that? Pickleball has a unique set of rules, mostly regarding volleys (hitting the ball before it hits the ground), that favors people with less mobility and poor balance. The decreased amount of volleying combined with the slower-traveling whiffle ball is great for a beginner, and someone with poor balance who needs a little more time to recover after hitting the ball away.

The large whiffle ball is also easier to hit than a traditional tennis ball. Pickleball is played on a court that is 20 x 44 feet, so it is a lot smaller than a tennis court, which requires the player to cover less ground. When you combine less volleying, a slower ball, and a smaller court, you get a pretty free-flowing game with fewer interruptions, which means great exercise.

Who Plays Pickleball?

Pickleball is played by over 2.46 million people in all 50 states, so you don’t have to look far to find a league or people with experience playing. When I began my pickleball research, I found that a church less than 5 miles from my community had a league that played weekly. I also found that our local YMCA had a regular playing league, and both leagues encompassed people of all ages, fitness levels, and experiences.

All it took was one quick phone call and the church welcomed our seniors to their next session. The first night we took about eight residents who had shown interest. Not a single resident we took knew how to play before going, but after a short tutorial they were all on the court and loving it! The most amazing thing was seeing a resident with Parkinson’s disease get on the court and have no problem playing.

A Weapon Against Depression

If you are around seniors often, you have most likely seen firsthand that some battle with depression. About 6 million in the U.S. alone struggle with it every day. After seeing the smiles and hearing the laughs of residents and church members playing this game, it was a no-brainer for me to introduce it to our community, and we have gotten plenty of positive feedback. (See also: Tai Chi Helps Fight Depression in Seniors.)

Where to Learn More

If you are not convinced or you want more information, there are plenty of websites you can go to, such as these:

If you are looking for a place to try pickleball, I suggest checking with your local continuing care retirement community or community center, or contacting a tennis facility.

If you are a visual person and want to see pickleball in action, look at this video done by the Early Show.

Check out some of our best practices for wellness programming for residents, get creative to get them coming back for more!  


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Topics: CCRC continuing care retirement community balance senior fitness depression

What Exercises Should I Do?: Guidelines for Fitness

fitness_levels.jpgExercise, as we know, is an essential part of living a healthy life—not only for the elderly, but for everyone. One common question I get is, “What exercises should I do?” Now, this is a loaded question. That’s going to depend on things like goal, fitness level, capability, and injury. But for the most part, I recommend that everyone follow basic guidelines for success when it comes to their fitness. Over the course of this blog, I discuss two of my guidelines for fitness. Not everyone is the same; therefore, one size doesn't fit all. But we are all humans, so one size does fit most.

When asked about what style of fighting he instructs and follows, Bruce Lee, my hero and inspiration, responded: “I don't believe in different ways of fighting now. I mean, unless human beings have three arms and three legs, then we will have a different way of fighting. But basically we all have two arms and two legs, so that is why I believe there should be only one way of fighting and that is no way.” Essentially, he was saying what I said before, which is that even though we are all different and everything doesn't apply to everyone, we are all more similar than we are different; therefore, the same basic rules will apply to everyone, whether it's with martial arts or exercise.

Guideline 1: Muscle-Activation Exercises

Muscle activation is when someone gains mastery over his or her body. A good example would be a bodybuilder. A bodybuilder will get on stage and brace their muscles as a means of showing their physique, but tensing that muscle tissue allows them to make that “mind-muscle connection,” which will allow them to concentrate on that particular muscle while doing an exercise. Essentially, they have an uber-awareness of their bodies.

Simple exercises isolating each muscle group through bracing can be a huge help in achieving this awareness. Also, certain exercise tips can increase this. For example, when performing a seated row, you want the client to concentrate on rowing with the upper back and not the arms; therefore, you can give them a simple cue such as pretending to squeeze an imaginary tennis ball together with their shoulder blades. This cue will allow them to take tension off certain areas, such as the arms, and put more tension on those larger, postural muscles like the lats, rhomboids, and traps.

Guideline 2: Simplistic Exercises

Simplicity with exercise is an important key to success. The more complex and drawn out the exercise becomes, the less the client will think about muscle activation and the more they will think about how confused they are. When describing his art, Jeet Kune Do, Bruce lee stated, “Simplicity is the key to brilliance. In building a statue, a sculptor doesn't keep adding clay to his subject. Actually, he keeps chiseling away at the inessentials until the truth of its creation is revealed without obstructions. Thus, contrary to other styles, being wise in Jeet Kune Do doesn't mean adding more; it means to minimize, in other words to hack away the unessential.”

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Topics: exercise fitness muscles

Change Your Commuting Habits for Improved Employee Health

Depending on where you live, if you drive yourself to work, your daily commute could be up to 90 minutes each way. The average American will spend 25 minutes commuting to work according to U.S. census data. Unfortunately, this is taking its toll on your overall health in more ways than the obvious: accumulating even more minutes of sitting throughout your day.

Let’s talk about what is really happening to your health as you are driving yourself to and from work each day, and what you can do about minimizing those negative effects by replacing them with positive habits you can incorporate into your commute.

Traffic Jams, Weather Delays, Road Rage = Another Opportunity for Stress!

ThinkstockPhotos-178516386.jpgThere are things that happen on our commute that we did not plan on that put us behind on our already hectic schedules or just annoy us. It is easy to become anxious when these things happen and start or end the day with added stress from the experience. The truth is these things are typically 100% out of your control, so this should not be a source of stress.

Next time you find yourself in this situation, simply take a few deep breaths. According to the American Institute of Stress, to decrease the damaging effects of stress on the body you should take focused and intentional deep breaths. This will allow you to truly relax by decreasing your heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, thus decreasing your overall response to the added stress.

Commuting Can Be a Pain…Seriously

When you have to sit for long periods of time, make sure you are sitting correctly. This comes back to ergonomics, but setting up your car to meet your needs has many elements to consider. The USDA APHIS Ergonomics Program does an excellent job of teaching you how to set up your driver’s seat properly as well as the risks associated with not setting it up correctly: increasing your risks for low back pain, neck strains, and many other common musculoskeletal injuries. Take a few minutes to properly adjust your vehicle to prevent these issues from occurring.

The Link Between Longer Commutes and Increased Prevalence of Obesity, High Blood Pressure, and Low Cardiovascular Fitness

Research from Washington University has shown a high correlation between longer commutes and increased prevalence of various health conditions such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, and high blood pressure. An obvious way to combat this is to ride your bike or walk to work, but realistically this is not always possible for many adults. Sometimes the commute is simply too long, or the city you are working in does not have the infrastructure to support this.

When commuting by foot or bike is not possible, it is even more important to find time for physical activity at some point during the day to help minimize these risks. One way that you can do this is to use a fitness facility on your way to or from work. This is a great option because not only will it allow you to access activity, but it will break up the time you are spending in your vehicle. 

Take This as an Opportunity to Make Time for Your Well-Being

If you have the option of using public transportation, your options here can be endless! One study has shown that people who use active travel (walking, public transportation, and biking) compared to those who drive themselves to work report higher levels of positive well-being. If active travel is not an option, maybe you enjoy listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, or just being alone with your thoughts. The commute can provide a great opportunity to do these things. Many take this time as an opportunity to learn more in an area that they are interested in but just can’t seem to find the time to do, or to simply just unwind from their hectic schedules.

Although the commute is likely not your favorite part of your day, it does not have to completely derail your employee health if you take these things into consideration. Take a few minutes this week and reflect on your commute and think about where you may be able to incorporate some of these healthy habits to improve upon and maintain your good health.

Consider how you can provide better wellness and fitness services to your employee, click below for ideas from NIFS.

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Topics: biking walking stress health staying active sitting high blood pressure