Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Bethany Garrity

Recent Posts by Bethany Garrity:

How one senior living community made major improvements in their fitness program

NIFS Fitness Center Management | DataIf you DIY the fitness program in your senior living community, you probably think your offerings are market-standard and don't need to be reconsidered. Even with strong staff running your fitness program, that in-house team has limits on what they can build for the community, and it's likely that you're missing out on opportunities for substantial improvement. The problem with those missed opportunities is that even with something as basic as exercise, it's tough to know what you don't know.

Here's one example of a client we're working with who already had in-house staff in place when we were brought on board to take over management of their fitness programming. In this case, the existing staff was well-credentialed and they were doing a good job of teaching group fitness classes and providing 1:1 exercise prescription and orientation-type services for the members. They were also running periodic programs and partnering across their communities with wellness initiatives. It was all good stuff, and yet, there was a lot of room for improvement. As part of the contract, we hired the existing staff and worked collaboratively to capitalize on what they were doing well, while also bringing in core services that provide tremendous value to program participants and the client. Here's a list of key data from our first full year at this community:
  • Annual fitness center visits increased 44% despite there being no change in total eligible residents during this time.
  • Appointment volume increased 68% which means that residents got a lot more high touch interaction with our fitness experts.
  • The average number of fitness center visits per day increased 43% and the number of residents who visited the fitness center at least once per month jumped 20%.
  • In a community where the group fitness program was already strong, we made a few tweaks and overall class participation increased 9%.

As I said, the staff leadership at this client location was strong before we came on board; they were doing a nice job tracking and using available data as well as providing good variety in programming. But, there are limits to what a small team can do in an environment like that without additional job-specific support. And that's the value of outsourcing your fitness center program to an organization that specializes in building and sustaining strong resident fitness programs. We were quickly able to help this team: 

  • Identify new ways to attract residents into appointments and structure documented follow-up practices to keep residents engaged in their exercise programs.
  • Adopt a program evaluation framework that allowed them to focus in on a few goals and truly evaluate what was/wasn't working in their community.
  • Provide comprehensive balance training/fall prevention programming with a depth that far exceed previous efforts, and served to draw in new participants to the fitness center and group fitness classes.

If you're ready to start moving your community fitness program to the next level, click below to download our eBook: How to Transform Your Fitness Center From Vacant to Vibrant.

Take your fitness center from vacant to vibrant > 

Topics: senior living fitness center fitness center for seniors outsourcing fitness managment resident fitness DIY staffing

Is Exercise Getting Left Behind in the Evolution of Corporate Wellness?

NIFS | Exercise ReminderThere is more and more discussion in corporate wellness today about doing wellness for (with?) employees, creating thriving workplace environments, shifting toward programmatic choices that allow for volunteerism and financial literacy, engaging employees with more purposeful work, and using job crafting to create more meaningful work.

It's an interesting time to engage in discussion about what these paradigm shifts really mean when it comes to practical, on-the-ground-application for employees. I agree with much of the dialog; I think it's past time to consider a shift and to take action on it. And yet, I'm concerned that we may be packing away some key elements for "old school" corporate wellness that should not be left out of the mix. One of those program options that is on the fringe is physical activity.

If the basis of your corporate wellness initiative is to help employees live well so that they can bring their best to work each day, then you cannot leave exercise behind. While you consider things like living wage, job crafting and other areas that impact individual well-being, you also need to keep the idea of making the healthy choice the easy choice at the top of mind. Here's how exercise maintains relevance in corporate wellness even as the concept of such offerings continue to evolve. 

The workplace is a prime place for making exercise easy

The research about the benefits of regular activity are clear. What remains elusive are effective strategies to nudge employees toward a more active lifestyle. But, that doesn't mean we should stop creating easy ways for the workers to move their bodies. Time and money (access) remain the two biggest barriers for adults when asked why they don't engage in regular exercise. Like it or not, the workplace becomes a prime location for employees to fit in some activity.  

Exercise doesn't require as much guess work as other initiatives

I know a lot of organizations have taken on wearables as the hallmark of their wellness program's physical activity component. It may be tempting to go that route - it seems relatively easy, and if the cost to implementation isn't a barrier for the organization, you can simply give everyone a Fitbit and get on with it. There are however, many reasons to exercise caution with the use of wearables in your wellness program, not the least of which is privacy.

[Read more: Why Wearable Fitness Trackers Aren't Your Wellness Program]

Outside of the wearable marketplace, there a host of ways you can make physical activity an easy choice in your work environments. We're partial to a corporate fitness center, but that's not the right fit in every business. While you need variety, you don't have to spend a ton of money to execute this well. Group fitness classes can be run with modest cost (or no cost - employees can fund this if you simply make the opportunity available). Painting out safe walking zones in your parking lot, providing resources for stretch breaks, and offering solid education on opportunities for exercise in the community are examples of low-cost initiatives that can easily be developed.  

Leading the way is required

Sometimes, the best way to communicate that movement is important for your workforce has less to do with programmatic offerings, but instead is focused on shifting your culture so that walking breaks are repeatedly encouraged and modeled.

[Read more: 5 Tips To Help Your Employees Move More]

Leaders in the organization have to adopt a mindset where taking a break for physical activity during the day is not just accepted, it's encouraged. One of the best ways to do that is by modeling (yes, that means you need to take your own breaks!). You also have to be mindful of workplace policies (clock in/out policies, productivity quotas, etc.) that may send a different message than the supportive communications you've issued. If words and actions don't match up, employees aren't likely to adopt new practices. 

At the end of the day, you can't really legislate that employees exercise. The motivation to move has to be an inner drive in order for it to be a sustained choice. But, you can make it easier for your workforce to have access to physical activity by creating both spaces and support for regular exercise. 

Tips for adding exercise

Topics: exercise at work corporate fitness corporate wellness success corporate wellness programs corporate fitness programming wellness programming

What's Missing From Your Resident Fitness Program and How To Fix It

NIFS | Senior Group Fitness

I hear from a lot of leadership in senior living communities who know that there's more that could be done with their resident exercise program, but they aren't sure how to get their staff to ramp things up. If you find yourself in this situation, check out the list below for common challenges and opportunities to do better for your residents.

Our participation is lower than it should be.

There are a few reasons that participation in your fitness program might run lower than it should.  The first thing to determine is whether you have reliable data about who is participating. When we  start working with a community, we often learn that they may have total (or estimated) counts for group fitness class participation and that's the end of their program data.  

  • Start by tracking participation per resident. You'll have more reliable information about who is participating, how frequently they attend, and what they participate in. You'll also gain knowledge about who isn't coming to the fitness center and/or classes.
  • If your staff can deliver on individual services for residents, add fitness and balance testing along with exercise prescriptions to provide residents who aren't participating with the support they need to feel safe and inspired to begin an exercise program.

[Read More: 4 Strategies to Engage More Residents in Your Exercise Program]

Our group fitness class calendar needs a do-over.

It's common for the group fitness class calendar to get set on autopilot without critical evaluation of what needs to be updated.

  • Start by using the participation data to figure out which classes really deserve a spot on your calendar.
  • The balance classes our staff teach in our client communities are by far the most popular format. If you don't have dedicated balance training classes on the calendar, add them now. It's not enough to have balance training mixed in with a strength class or another blended format.
  • Carefully consider class descriptions; how you word group fitness opportunities for residents can make a big difference in what resonates with a previously inactive audience.

We need to be offering more fun programs.

Creating fun and inspiring programs to invite more participation in the fitness center is one of the best parts of the job! It's really central to how our staff are supporting residents in the client fitness centers we manage. Consider that engaging programs should be more than just fun; they should be built strategically to meet a specific goal. For example, NIFS Fitness Freeze program was a solid solution to combat the traditional fitness center visit decline we see in December each year. Or, think more holistically about Active Aging Week and use National Senior Health and Fitness Day to offer non-traditional options for physical activity.

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If you're committed to keeping your fitness staff in house, then they need some support to start improving what they're offering your residents. Our eBook on how to turn your fitness center from vacant to vibrant is a great next step.

Take your fitness center from vacant to vibrant >

Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness group fitness for seniors fitness for seniors

Corporate Wellness or Employee Well-being? Or Does it Matter?

NIFS | Corporate Wellness vs Well-beingI wrote a post a while ago about changing the name vs changing the notion of "activities" in senior livingAt the time, the industry was working through a naming brainstorm (“name-storming”) to determine if continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) should be renamed. For the record, the industry has moved toward life plan community as an alternative to CCRC. The whole “name-storming” thing got me thinking about the value of words. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that words matter. Words are indeed powerful, and we must choose them carefully to thoughtfully convey what we mean. Otherwise, we have this situation, or this oneAnd yet, getting the words right doesn’t mean we can slack on our actions behind the words. Which brings me to a debate going on in corporate wellness…or is it corporate well-being? This article says well-being is the future of wellnessThe Global Wellness Institute’s Chairman also thinks well-being is where the industry needs to move because wellness isn’t as holistic. (Interestingly, she also notes that wellness apparently isn’t associated with happiness.)

If you point your web browser to a search of well-being versus wellness, you’ll get a host of articles that are part of the current conversation. And it seems that there is a movement in favor of the more holistic “well-being” as the appropriate, inclusive, aspirational name for the corporate programming we have traditionally called employee wellness.

So let’s make that switch. Let’s all link arms and agree to change our vocabulary and put wellness where it belongs…in 2017. Wellness vendors become well-being vendors, and wellness programs become well-being programs. Employees earn well-being points instead of wellness points and wellness directors sign new job descriptions that dub them well-being directors.

Except here’s the thing. We will still have corporate wellness programs that focus primarily on physical health without taking a hard look at how the workplace environment nurtures or neglects employees. Businesses will still have program directors who come from fully clinical backgrounds and who myopically build sterile programs that lack a more human element. Practitioners will still be talking about how important stress resilience is to helping human beings thrive with very little concrete employer-provided action to truly help the workforce get a handle on the pressures of work and life.

[Read More: Why wearable fitness trackers aren’t your wellness program]

Of course, the above descriptions don’t fit every situation. There are some fabulously compassionate, effective, and well-loved wellness programs out there in corporate settings. But for those programs, it doesn’t really matter if we call it wellness or well-being. Because the focus is on helping employees be their best selves in work and life.

I do realize this is pretty rich commentary coming from an organization whose primary focus in on fitness. To be fair, we have a lot to gain by the industry holding still on the current model where “wellness” equals physical health. But I’ve been around long enough to see that having your physical self in good shape isn’t the only way to be well; we’re only part of the picture. And, the more our staff are tasked with work beyond managing the corporate fitness center, the more value I see in using our relationships with employees to help them discover how they want to live well (which may or may not include a regular workout).

That’s the change we’re making, one connection at a time. What do you want to change: the scope of your program or what you call it?

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Topics: employee wellness wellness programs employee wellbeing well-being

Does Your Senior Living Community Wellness Program Foster Ageism?

Several months ago, I listened to an interview on NPR with Ron Christie. He talked about working with President George W. Bush, who pressed the idea of combating the soft bigotry of low expectations when it came to the achievement gap for kids in schools. Turns out, the soft bigotry of low expectations is alive and well in all sorts of domains in this country, including how we view the abilities of older adults.

“If I accept you as you are, I will make you worse; however, if I treat you as though you are what you are capable of becoming, I help you become that.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

NIFS | Playing FrisbeeOne of the challenges that wellness program leaders in senior living communities must overcome is making sweeping assumptions about the abilities of their audience. And it's no easy task. I am in communities across the country on a regular basis where I'm routinely surprised by the stories I hear from residents about how enthusiastically they're living their lives right now. Shame on me. After more than a decade of doing this work, I am still amazed at how vibrant my elders can be. That amazement, though positive and delighting, is rooted in my ageist assumptions that older adults somehow cannot or should not live with the same enthusiasm that I choose for myself. It is representative of the soft bigotry of low expectations.

Whether or not you can see these ageist assumptions in your own beliefs, you can see it very tangibly in the activity calendars, which are the visible display of how residents are invited to live well in your community. It shows up on senior living activity calendars in these (and other) ways:

  • Unique activities? Does your calendar have fewer than 5% of activities each month that are truly unique to the month, quarter, or year? If you're not sure, try this: pull up three months of calendars and cross off every item that is routine, including standing card games, meetings, birthday celebrations, group fitness classes, etc. See what's left and consider how empty your calendar might be if it highlighted only the unique events.
  • Passive vs. active? Does your calendar have a substantial percentage of the programming designed to be passive (sit-and-listen) rather than activating residents' minds and bodies? How many events are truly resident-led where the staff are only providing assistance with room reservation and possible event communication? Which programs can you point to that facilitate meaningful social interaction for your residents?
  • Serving just the vocal minority? Are your calendar events built largely on the vocal minority requests, where the activity director serves as an order-taker instead of pulling from a broader base of residents, community connections, etc.?

[Read More: 3 Keys To Improving Resident Engagement In Wellness]

Those are not the hallmarks of programming that communicate the capability, energy, and desires of the seniors we serve. Those are very much representative of offerings for those who are retiring from life. They tend to be narrow in scope, limiting in new experiences, and focused on probably 20–30% of your population. They demonstrate our lowered expectations for what will inspire seniors to engage.

Fortunately, it seems the senior living industry as a whole is moving toward educating on ageist stereotyping and uncovering systemic challenges that make it hard to overcome the generalized belief that increasing age means decreasing value to society. LeadingAge offered this "beginning conversation" in the magazine late in 2016, and the International Council on Active Aging has been beating the drum against ageism as well.

At the community level, using a fresh lens to see what's possible from an activities standpoint is a good start. That means dropping (as best you can) any perceptions you have about the audience you serve. You can take a stab at revealing your assumptions by giving a colleague your elevator speech about what you do.

  • Do you include assumptions about what programs residents will and will not participate in?
  • Do you have an underlying assumption of frailty in your residents?
  • Does your message speak to how resistant your residents are to change?

If your focus is on keeping residents busy and entertaining them, you may be building your enrichment program on ageist stereotypes. Perhaps it's time to do better. Check out these concrete ideas for truly honoring the passions and interests of your lively and very much alive residentsOr, if you're ready to get busy evaluating what you have as a starting point for making improvements, check out our quick read on how to evaluate the quality of your wellness program.

Find out how to evaluate your program

Topics: senior wellness active aging senior living senior living community activities ageism

How I manage my stress with a 5:00am workout

NIFS | Managing Stress | Early WorkoutI know I'm not the ONLY one who exercises early in the morning.  While I don't have stats on the percent of exercising adults who workout before 7:00am, I know there are quite a lot of us; I see my tribe at the gym when I'm there at o'dark thirty.  (Seriously, why would commercial gyms open at 5:00am if there wasn't a demand for it?)  Still, whenever I get into a conversation with a friend about exercise and it comes out that I'm on the treadmill at 5:00am, I get the "are you out of your bleeping mind" look. 

The thing is, adulting is hard. There are a lot of pressures flying in (and sometimes sticking around) from different directions. We're wearing so many hats - wife, mom, friend, volunteer, employee - that without fail, when one of those important elements in life is out of whack with high stress, the other areas suffer too. 

I know it sounds cliche, but exercise is my fix.  When I'm not moving my body regularly, the carefully-laid house of cards I've built that has the appearance of everything going smoothly in my life is going to get blown over by the slightest of stressors.  Enter the 5AM workout.  I don't mean to sound dramatic, but I've tried other times of the day and it just doesn't fit for my life.  I have to be at work by 7:30am so I can leave by 4:30pm for kid pick up and once I'm in mom-mode, forget the afternoon/evening for "me" time. I suppose I could try the lunch-time thing if I thought my coworkers would be okay with me sweating in the office (even after a shower...yes, I'm one of THOSE people).

To be clear, when my alarm goes off at 4:30am it's not like I'm all bright eyed and perky.  I stumble to the kitchen, turn on the coffee pot and then sit on the couch to go through some basic seated stretches while I wipe the sleep from my eyes. I am never happy about the 5:00am workout, and I don't hit it every day, but I'm always glad when it's done and my whole day is better for it.  

I've done the early morning workout since I started adulting after college, and I've learned over the years to listen to my body so each early meet up with the treadmill, the weights, or the pool isn't always a time trial to beat yesterdays effort. I'm more forgiving for a light day and for skipping a day which has its own benefits for my psyche. 

When I managed corporate fitness centers for NIFS years ago, I used to get asked what was the best time of day to workout, and my answer was always the same: it's whatever time you actually will workout.  That's still my answer; 5:00am isn't for everyone. But there are a lot of hours in the day to choose to move your body.  Even a short 10 minute stint can be powerful for your health.  Carve out the time, no matter the hour and no matter how brief. Your body, your family, and your friends will be glad you did. 

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Topics: stress workouts exercise habit making time to exercise morning workout

4 Myths That Are Limiting The Success of Your Corporate Fitness Center 

Including a corporate fitness center in your menu of employee wellness benefits is worth considering. It takes away a few common excuses people use for not exercising by being convenient and low or no cost for employees to use. But if you think that simply putting a fitness center into your office space is a key answer to lowering your health care costs, you’re mistaken. And, if lowering your health care costs is your primary motivator for funding a corporate fitness center, you may want to reconsider that position because generating ROI figures specific to your onsite fitness program is almost impossible.

If you're still with me because you think a corporate fitness center is on the list of the right things to do to help your employees be well, then consider the myths below that may hold back the success of your worksite fitness initiatives.  

#1: If we build it, they will come.

Corporate fitness center ghost town

No, friends, “they” won’t. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that just under 22% of adults age 18 and older self-report meeting the physical activity guidelines. Because that data is self-reported, it’s probably inflated. If this snapshot is representative of your workforce (and it probably is), then your employees aren’t as active as they should be for optimal health. But simply putting a fitness center in your building won't automatically make inactive employees start exercising. Solely dedicating a space and putting some equipment in, is no guarantee that it won't quickly become a ghost town.

One key to making your fitness center more effective is providing engaging and qualified staff to both manage the center, AND provide key services/support for employees. Without fitness center staff, you are building a corporate fitness center for the 15-20% of your workforce who are already regular exercisers. That said, if you built your corporate fitness center to be a nice amenity and you don’t really care if it’s being used, then carry on. But, if you’re truly interested in helping people adopt physical activity into their lives, consider getting the right staff in there to pull your fence sitters (“Maybe I’ll try it Monday”) off the fence and into the fitness center.

#2: If we can find the right carrot, more employees will participate.

One manager’s “carrot” is another employee’s “stick”. A lack of employee engagement can’t be fixed with HSA money or t-shirts. It’s likely that your employees aren’t participating for reasons much deeper than the extrinsic rewards you’re willing to lay at their feet. 

An individual’s ability to be well goes WAY beyond biometric screenings and an HRA. Research tells us that zip code does more to determine our health than our genes. Employers have zero control over both of those. So, while you’re designing the perfect incentive strategy to get your employees to participate in the annual wellness program, they’re wondering how to keep food on the table and how pay their bills. They're worrying about junior's performance at school and they pray daily that he gets to and from school safely. If that isn't enough to have on their plate, they’re suffering the weight of serious stress brought on by working more than one job. 

In the midst of all of the stress of their personal lives, there isn't a consideration of using your corporate fitness center. Worse yet, every Fall, when you tell them the money that’s at stake if they don’t successfully complete elements X, Y, and Z of your wellness program, they only feel more burden and frankly a necessity to participate in the drudgery that is your wellness program. They NEED those HSA dollars so they’ll scrape by figuring out a way to complete all of the wellness program components. And they’ll resent you all the way. There’s nothing healthy about any of that.

#3: If we ask employees what they need, they’ll put forward ridiculous suggestions we can’t use (so we don’t’ ask).

I can’t say this is 100% false. Case in point, we have one client who has a few employees who annually ask for a pool at work via our satisfaction survey. The client is never going to act on that request. But, it would be equally ridiculous to assume that all feedback is as myopic as this. 

If you subscribe to the ideology that healthy and happy employees are the core of your successful business, then you value what your teams have to say. Sometimes, their needs for improved health shows up in their data, so you don't even have to ask. In other cases, they have fabulous ideas for elevating your organization that would never otherwise have made it to the surface if you didn’t ask.

We make it a habit to solicit feedback from fitness center members, and in many cases, they've asked for services that we were able to implement to the benefit of all of the members. For example, in response to a member request, we now routinely have a large bottle of sunscreen available for members who want to run/walk outside. We also started building a library of grab-n-go workouts on laminated cards that members could use to get through a quick session without a scheduled appointment with a trainer. Eventually, we built those into on-the-road kits for employees who traveled; they could check out a travel kit before their trip and return it when they got back to the office. You could argue that these ideas should have been on our radar, but they weren't and we never would have met these needs if we hadn't asked for feedback. 

#4: If our fitness center isn’t being used we need to change our management partner.

Maybe your fitness center is struggling because of the management company, or maybe it's the right management partner but the wrong staff for your culture. But, before you assume that low participation in your fitness center could be fixed by swapping out the vendor, take a holistic view of what's happening in your work environment.  

Here's why: if your employees have very little autonomy in their jobs, then the corporate fitness center isn’t even on the employee’s radar. They punch in and punch in without looking back. It doesn’t matter how engaging and inviting the fitness center staff is, how great the services are, how fun the group fitness classes are, and how easy it is to join the fitness center. If their work environment offers no flexibiliy, they will not use your fitness center. 

Your fitness management vendor cannot rise above your organization's cultural barriers to magically draw employees into the fitness center, and a vendor switch is a major ordeal. So, exercise caution and take a hard look in the mirror before you fix a vendor relationship that may not be broken.  

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Your employees lives are complicated and their work environment is part of that sticky picture.  Some of them are likely fighting to make it each day, in ways that you may have never considered. If you’re committed to a strategy for employee well-being that is truly about lifting your employees up, then you have to bust through these myths to get to the real barriers that make it hard for people to make a healthy choice. For more on addressing social determinants of health in your wellness program, try this article. If you're looking for a few quick tips to infuse a little more movement into the workday for your employees, grab our quick read below.

 Quick tips to help your employees move more

Topics: employee health and wellness workplace wellness corporate fitness management

How a Robust Fall Prevention Program Can Improve Residents Lives

Falls are a big concern for senior living communities. Given the well-known statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it's easy to see why. The National Council On Aging provides compelling numbers as well. This is why we work so hard with our clients to establish robust, evidence-based, year-round programming that focuses on improving resident's balance and strength, as well as their self-confidence.  

One of the key elements for successful balance programming is drawing in as many residents as possible; we've found that the best way to accomplish this is through varied programming. It's not enough to simply put a balance class on the calendar. Communities have to take it one step further and offer other ways to interact.

Balance Redfined | NIFS Fall Prevention

NIFS Balance RedefinedTM programming offers everything from fitness testing to classes that teach participants how to safely get up from a fall. We've spent years evolving these services as we responded to resident suggestions and evaluated our program data.  Below are stories from residents whose lives have been positively impacted by the work our staff do.

Ms. Weigle

Despite losing her husband just a few days after they moved into the community, Ms. Weigle made a conscious choice to take that difficult first step out of their apartment to meet new neighbors, and within a few weeks someone invited her to try the Balance Class offered by the NIFS fitness center manager. She has been a faithful participant (and ambassador!) ever since and has expanded her lifestyle to include additional activities such as swimming, walking groups, gardening, and studying Spanish. 

Ms. Weigle takes her regular exercise so seriously that she’s told her family not to call in the morning on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays because she will be in the pool. When asked, she’s proud to share that through repeat balance testing with the NIFS manager, she is seeing her scores improve.  At 87 years old, she thinks becoming steadier on her feet has helped her in other areas of her health. In fact, in a recent doctor’s visit, she was praised by her doctor for exceptional blood pressure, and she was pleased to share that ankle pain which had long bothered her was no longer a problem. 

[Read more:  Ms. Weigle's full story]

Mrs. Chapin

When Mrs. Chapin moved to her community about ten years ago, she wasn’t new to exercise. With a COPD diagnosis almost 20 years ago, she started swimming laps, and even though she hated to exercise, she kept at it because she knew it was crucial to helping her stay well with a chronic disease. But when she and her husband moved into their community, she took a break from regular exercise to engage in so many of the other opportunities provided. 

She watched her husband’s health gradually decline, so she nudged him to join her for a Balance class, and they were regulars up until his passing last year. Through that loss, Mrs. Chapin felt the support of the members in her class, and was able to keep attending regularly. The social support in NIFS balance programming has been a significant and  positive as she draws her social network from that group. Mrs. Chapin’s annual senior fitness evaluation confirms she’s on the right track with maintaining her balance, but more important than the numbers is how Mrs. Chapin feels. She told us that at 88 years old, she feels steadier than ever and she’s thrilled to still be sewing quilts and clothes, as well as painting, and serving on several resident committees all of which wouldn’t be possible if she wasn’t in good shape. 

Mr. Sadler

Mr. Sadler never used to exercise.  But when he moved to his community in 2009, his decision to start taking group fitness classes and using the pool proved valuable to overcome health challenges that were just around the corner. After a knee replacement surgery didn’t go as expected, he had to have the surgery reversed and replaced the joint with surgical concrete.  Not only did that “fix” leave him unable to walk, he lost significant healthy muscle tissue as well. Following his release from physical therapy, Mr. Sadler was only mobile by scooter or wheelchair and he stopped attending an annual family beach vacation.

He knew his only hope to return to more independence, and maybe to enjoying that annual family vacation again was to get back to a regular exercise routine. After working closely with the NIFS team at his community, he was able to regain significant strength and balance through careful water training. Eventually, he got back to land-based exercise as well and at 87 years old, he has resumed driving and walks confidently with a walker. In 2015, he joined his family again at the beach for their annual vacation. 

[Read more: Mr. Sadler's full story]

Mrs. Boelter

Mrs. Boelter was physical active as a regular water aerobics participant before she moved into her community in 2013.  She was also an avid walker and all of that has continued with the help of the NIFS staff at her community. As her Parkinson’s disease progresses, she feels the importance of maintaining her activity level even more and shared that through regular personal training with the NIFS manager, she has more energy throughout the day. But most noticeably, she is more able to get moving in the morning compared to her previous routine.

Mrs. Boelter noted that although she’s had a number of falls over the past 20 years since she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she’s had no major falls since she started working with the NIFS staff on her balance. She tells everyone at the community about the benefits of the classes and personal training; she’s a living testament to being able to maintain her independence with regular balance training offered at her community.

Mrs. Moore

Mrs. Moore has been active in the fitness center and with the NIFS staff at her community since she moved in 2004. More recently however, she participated in the NIFS Balance Challenge at the suggestion of the NIFS manager. Through a series of evaluations, education, and fun games, residents engaged in the Balance Challenge understand how to improve their balance as well as how to avoid and manage falls. 

New information on managing falls proved to be very timely for Mrs. Moore when she sustained a fall outside of the clubhouse. After she got her bearings, she was able to use skills she had learned from the NIFS manager during the Challenge to get up on her own without injury. She shared she’s been able to use what she learned through the program to stay active with gardening and to keep up with her grandkids too. She has also become an ambassador for all services connected with balance training at her community. 

[Read more: Mrs. Moore's full story]


It's really common for communities to have missed opportunities when it comes to providing comprehensive fall prevention programming. We can help you spot and fill those gaps to provide exactly what your residents need to feel steadier and confident on their feet. Click below for more information about a free consulting session with NIFS to jump start balance training at your community.

Find out more about a free consulting session with NIFS >

Topics: fall prevention balance training senior lliving balance redefined balance training for seniors

What Happens When We Make Purposeful Living the Heart of Life Enrichment Programming

senior_woman_balancing.jpgLet's see if this sounds familiar:

  • Your residents love the life enrichment staff.
  • Residents sometimes complain that there are too many things on the calendar; they can't attend everything they want to.
  • Your life enrichment director routinely reports how lively and engaged the resident wellness committee is but you don't have real data to back this up.

These are "benchmarks" we've used for years to determine when activities are going well in the community. In 2018, those benchmarks are only status quo, and we are well into an era where leadership must begin looking carefully at how resources are being allocated for life enrichment (including the fitness program).

[Read More: How to give resident wellness programs a fresh look]

Activities Directors as Order Takers

Activity Directors (or Life Enrichment Directors, or Wellness Directors...you pick) are busy like all the other personnel in your community. They are at the heart of every community's bustling events calendar by performing a delicate balancing act every month taking “orders” (requests) from residents and the community all while juggling existing and long-standing calendar events (Do not mess with the card player’s schedule). The programming is delicately placed on the calendar and carefully scheduled with typically limited space inside the community, and tightly booked transportation to areas outside of the community. 

Sometimes the influx of requests from residents alone can fill a whole month. And sometimes the calls from outside the four walls of the community require booking out months in advance because the programming is so tight. It is indeed wonderful to have so many things to do in one senior living arena. 

But a busy calendar isn't the same thing as a calendar built on resident purpose. And there are limitations to your Activities Director serving as an order taker. While many community leaders lay an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" label over activities simply because the resident's aren't balking at their options, those organizations are leaving quite a bit on the table in terms of building truly purposeful living for their residents.    

Residents Do Not Want to be Entertained

You see, residents in your community aren’t looking solely to be entertained.  After all, your community is not The Love Boat with your Director filling the role of Julie. Instead, residents are looking for purposeful living in a setting where some of the barriers that used to get in the way, like home maintenance, have been removed. They’re looking for opportunities to contribute, to grow, and to connect in new and challenging ways. 

The order taker model only meets the needs of the vocal minority. Those who sit on the committee or who speak up are more likely to have their interest pursued. However, over the years, I have observed that senior living activities seem to fall into the Pareto Principle where twenty percent of the population consumes eighty percent of the resources. I guarantee there are residents who don’t participate because you haven’t tapped their interest or desires yet.  

[Read More: Top 5 reasons your resident's don't engage in wellness]

If your Activities Director moved away from taking orders, could the calendar hold more intentional opportunities for residents to engage in the community lifestyle programming?  Would more of your residents be involved in the offerings because of the thoughtful approach to a variety of interests represented by your diverse audience? This shift in how an Activity Director does business requires a change in focus; instead of using the meeting minutes from the monthly committee minute as a to do list, the activities team needs to start thinking strategically about how to engage a variety of stakeholders in the planning process for resident events and activities.

Change for the Sake of Doing Better

Most of us aren't big fans of change, but change for the sake of doing better provides meaning to the difficult decisions that lie ahead. Suggesting a fresh approach to how the calendar is organized, who is supporting events, how events are developed, and how success is measured will help the activities team start to see what "better" looks like. (Note, "better" doesn't mean turning all of the programming on its head. We do not need your residents in an uproar over substantial changes to beloved activities.)

That said, sometimes it’s hard to know where to start when you’re trying to change an approach or a process. Our Build Vitality webinar series (which covers branding, staff, program, and fitness center design) is a good resource. If you’d like a more hands on approach, consider bringing NIFS onsite for consulting to help you chart a course to build a multidimensional activities calendar that cultivates purpose for your residents.

find out more about consulting

Topics: senior living status quo wellness for seniors senior living activities purposeful living

Using Wellness to Decrease Employee Turnover in Senior Living

NIFS | Employee Turnover | Employee WellnessTurnover in senior living is notoriously high for a number of reasons. One of the tools leadership can use to increase tenure for employees in community settings is offering balanced and thoughtful wellness programs. What follows are suggestions for how to elevate wellness in your corporate strategy so that your workforce understands you care about them beyond the day-to-day work they provide to keep the community running.

Employee wellness is about much more than a walking program.

How you position wellness in the organization can determine whether it sinks or swims. Physical health is only part of the picture. That's not to say you shouldn't offer a walking program. It can be a very simple way to help employees be more aware of how much they're moving during the day. But keep in mind that much of your community's staff members are on their feet most of the day serving the residents; a walking program for them may feel like "one more thing to do" in an already busy, service-oriented day. And giving everyone a wearable fitness tracker doesn't always communicate a "we care about you" message, either. The CNA scraping by on $12.50 an hour might rather have a small raise than a fancy wristband.

[Read More: Why Employee Purpose Could Be the Heart of Corporate Wellness]

Consider the health challenges across your workforce.

Your administrative/leadership team will have different obstacles in achieving good health compared to what you might see for your physical plant staff and nursing aides, and the community's approach to wellness needs and what it will take to address that range. The wearable/walking program I mentioned above is a good example of a well-intentioned offering that often falls flat for hourly staff. But, if you provide compensated exercise time for employees, you might be onto something in terms of a message that truly says, "We want to make it easy for you to live well."

Be careful if you intend to use biometric screenings and health risk assessments as the pillars of your wellness program. They have become hallmarks of a good "outcomes-based" wellness program in recent years, but that title may be misplaced. If you're just getting started on a wellness program for your community employees, it could be tempting to latch onto such screening tools as the place to begin. But there are challenges with these offerings that should not be glossed over.

Also keep in mind how important social determinants of health are for your workforce. The health habits that your crew practice at work are only part of the picture of how well they live. Where employees live can have a profound effect on their well-being. Access to healthy foods, reliable and convenient transportation, safe living environments, cultural norms and other issues have a strong influence for all of us on how they engage with healthy choices, and your workplace wellness program may be butting heads with those strong social factors. Maintaining realistic expectations about the ways your workforce can engage at work will help set your program on the right path.

Align your wellness strategy with the rest of your business strategy.

If your organization is already built on a model of caring for employees, infusing a message that you want to help employees live well should resonate positively. But if employees feel that the culture is punitive and as if their every move is being watched, "wellness" is quite likely going to sound like one more management hack designed purely to cut costs. Here are some suggestions for improving retention through a supportive relationship-based approach. You'll need to get the overarching company culture in place first before you add in a wellness component if you want your message about employee health to resonate with the staff.

Where to look next.

If you're more confused than ever about how to get an employee-centered wellness program off the ground for your workforce, you're not alone. The variable shifts, the wide range in roles (many of which are quite physical in nature), and the simultaneously gratifying and exhausting nature of the work you do, complicate how to both establish and deliver a wellness message and programming. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

  1. If you don't know what makes your employees tick, start by getting to know them a little better. They may have interests they could share with colleagues that would buoy the whole department or organization.
  2. Connect with employees working in a variety of settings across the community to find out what would help them feel supported to live well. You probably won't be able to execute on all of the ideas, but you will likely get suggestions you couldn't have imagined on your own.
  3. Start small and with the right messaging. (Hint: You can craft the right messaging when you have information from tip #1.) Always lead with words and actions that communicate a desire to help employees live well. If you say it in words and your actions don't align, employees won't engage.
  4. Learn from other similarly situated organizations. There are communities out there doing this work with their employees, and they can help you avoid some of the pitfalls they've already climbed out of.

It's not easy work, but don't let that stop you. Doing well for your employees helps them do right by your residents, and that's a community where everyone benefits. Need a little more information to get your wellness program started in the right direction? Check out the blog below.

Blog: doing corporate wellness for employees

Topics: corporate wellness senior living staffing wellness programs employee turnover