Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

What Exercises Should I Do?: Guidelines for Senior Fitness (Part 4)

In my first, second, and third blogs of the series, I went over five of my guidelines to being successful in senior fitness:

  1. Muscle-Activation Exercises
  2. Simplistic Exercises
  3. Compound, Multi-joint, Closed-chain Movements
  4. Grip Exercises
  5. Mobility Work
In this fourth and final blog of the series, I discuss one more guideline:

Don't Change Exercises; Change the Intangibles and Variables of the Exercise

ThinkstockPhotos-95247776.jpgCertain exercises, such as the sit-to-stand and the seated row, should always be performed in one's routine. Certain experts recommend that one would eventually replace these exercises with a new one. The reasoning behind this is that it is believed that over time the muscles will grow accustomed to certain exercises and the effect will be lost. While this is slightly true, it's not true because of the exercise itself, but rather the variables of the exercise, such as the sets, reps, rest periods, tempo, etc.

By changing these variables, the CCRC resdient client will always have results and will continue to perform exercises that work the entire body in unison, such as the exercises in the preceding blogs. As a result, they will increase their performance in the daily activities of life.

After all, the more something is changed, the less that person will be good at it. If you want to get good at throwing a ball, you spend your time throwing a ball and not catching a ball. Well, the concept is the same with exercise. Constantly changing the exercises on someone will possibly give them results, but the question isn’t, "Is this person getting results?" Rather, the question is, "Is this the best way to do it?"

So, constantly changing the exercises may elicit a result, but we are looking for the best results; therefore, mastering and being consistent with basic, compound, multi-joint, closed-chain movements will help gain strength, increase lean muscle weight, increase mobility, work the body in unison, increase neurological activation, and lead to greater overall success.

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Topics: CCRC balance senior fitness change mobility exercises grip

What Exercises Should I Do?: Guidelines for Senior Fitness (Part 3)

In my first and second blogs of the series, I went over four of my guidelines to being successful in fitness:

  1. Muscle-Activation Exercises
  2. Simplistic Exercises
  3. Compound, Multi-joint, Closed-chain Movements
  4. Grip Exercises

In this third blog, I discuss another guideline.  

Guideline 5: Mobility WorkThinkstockPhotos-474645128.jpg

Mobility is the ability to move freely, pain free, and without issue throughout the range of motion of a particular joint. For instance, a client may have an issue getting into the position to do an exercise such as the sit-to-stand. One of the issues I see is related to tight ankles, which is a very common problem. With tight ankles, if the chair is in a low position, the client won't be able to keep their heels on the ground and will shift their weight to the front of the foot, opening the door to a fall or knee injury. To fix this area, I focus on three spots: range-of-motion exercises, stretching exercises (whether it is static or dynamic), and myofascial release exercises.

While stretching is important, too much of it may lead to joint laxity, which could lead to injury. Range-of-motion exercises, such as pointing and flexing with the foot, rolling the ankle around in full circles, and even calf raises will move the joint in its full range of motion and warm up the joints and muscles, which will allow for better stretching and injury prevention. Lastly, myofascial release will help loosen up that gristly tissue, which will lead to more mobility, therefore leading to increased performance, less injury, and better results.

Obviously, many CCRC residents won't be able to do foam rolling by using a foam roller on the floor, and I certainly don’t recommend that. Therefore, I recommend two tools: a mobility stick, which allows the resident to access problem spots on their own from a comfortable position, and a tennis ball, which is small enough to target certain spots, but not so hard that it may hurt too much, as myofascial release is always a bit uncomfortable. The tennis ball can be used while lying on an elevated mat or exercise table, or even used as a tool to loosen up the upper body by placing the ball on a wall and gently pressing the ball into the problem spot, such as the chest or mid back.

While mobility is an issue that affects many areas of the body, lack of ankle mobility is a common problem that I've seen, and you can apply the same mobility principles to many different areas other than the ankles.

***

In my next blog, I give you my sixth and final guideline: Changing exercise variables.

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Topics: CCRC senior fitness stretching injury prevention mobility myofascial release foam rolling

What Exercises Should I Do?: Guidelines for Senior Fitness (Part 2)

In my first blog, I discussed two of my guidelines for senior fitness:

  1. Muscle-Activation Exercises
  2. Simplistic Exercises

In this second blog, i will discuss different movements and grip exercises.

Guideline 3: Compound, Multi-joint, Closed-chain Movements

Exercises like sit-to-stands, which are modified squats; and a vertical and horizontal pressing and pulling movement, such as seated rows and wall pushups, just to name a few, give you more bang for your buck. Movements like this burn more calories and fat, lead to greater strength and lean muscle gains, and most importantly, they work the body in unison.

These exercises work multiple muscle groups through the range of motion of multiple joints. For instance, a sit-to-stand works the quads, hamstrings, hips, calves, and even the upper back due to maintaining a neutral, upright spine. Also, this exercise uses these particular muscles through the range of motion of the hip joint, knees, ankles, and more. Isolation exercises, on the other hand, only work one muscle through the range of motion of one joint. For instance, a leg extension works the quads through the range of motion of the knee joint.

When CCRC residents, or anyone for that matter, perform daily activities such as standing up after ThinkstockPhotos-145159937.jpglunch, walking down the hallway, or picking up groceries, multiple muscles are being used through the range of motion of multiple joints. That’s why the compound, multi-joint, closed-chain movements are so much more effective than isolation, single-joint, open-chain movements.

These exercises also increase neurological activation. Compound exercises allow the individual to lift heavier loads, as opposed to isolation movements. Lifting heavier loads demands an involvement of larger muscles, which places more demand on the central nervous system to activate more motor units and fire them off at a faster and higher rate.

These exercises are great for balance, as well. Strength-training exercises are extremely effective for increasing balance. One question I always like to ask residents is, “Would you say that your balance is worse than it was ten years ago?” The answer is usually a resounding yes. Then I ask, “Why do you think that is? Ten years ago, did you regularly perform balance exercises?” The answer to this question is usually a resounding no. What this tells me is that as the resident got older, they lost muscle. As the muscle atrophied, they lost the strength to appropriately balance themselves. Furthermore, if they had a fall, they'd be even more reluctant to do anything. This fear would lead to even more inactivity and muscle atrophy, leading to a steady decline in balance. My suggestion? Center most of the training on the main compound movements and add isolation exercises in for lagging, injured, or imbalanced muscle groups.

Guideline 4: Grip Exercises

Most residents have arthritis in their hands; therefore, they have poor range of motion with them. Hand strength is vital for many reasons. From being able to grab their eating utensil to being able to grab the railing when they walk the halls, grip strength is vital. Doing crushing-grip exercises, like using a hand gripper from a sports store; or rubber band forearm extensor exercises, which are vital to avoid an imbalance from the crushing-grip work; and pinching grip exercises with a dumbbell allows clients to strengthen their hands, reduce, pain and increase range of motion.

***

Watch for my next blog when I introduce a fifth guideline for senior fitness—mobility work.

Interested in doing more for your residents and how you can create a culture of wellness?  Click below to see how you can do just that! 

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Topics: CCRC NIFS balance senior fitness muscles exercises

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

Why Hiring the Right Trainer for Your Senior Fitness Program Is Vital

Let’s face it, personal trainers are pretty ubiquitous these days, and it’s easy to understand why. The industry doesn’t have licensure (yet), and there are a lot of inexpensive and easy-to-obtain “personal trainer” certifications available that allow fitness enthusiasts with little knowledge about how the body works to earn a distinction as a personal trainer.

The scary truth about hiring a personal trainer for your senior living community is that the typical consumer doesn’t necessarily know what to look for in a qualified fitness professional. Unfortunately, the I-paid-them-and-they-certified-me individual looks equally competent alongside the individual who has a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and who has earned and painstakingly maintains an industry gold-standard certification.

While hiring an exercise professional for your senior living community fitness program is a very buyer-beware proposition, the rewards for making the right staffing choice can be great.

The right fitness professional is a major benefit to the residents.

MMFC1.jpgThis is really what it’s all about, right? You want a passionate, capable, competent, self-starter running the exercise program in the community. You need someone who will

  • Coordinate the group exercise program (the fitness specialist should be teaching at least some of the classes).
  • Initiate and execute on health-related programming both in the fitness area as well as in partnership with other departments in the community.
  • Promote and provide important services like exercise prescriptions (writing individual exercise programs for residents) and senior fitness testing, as well as follow up with residents to offer updated exercise programs and repeat testing as appropriate.
  • Track participation by individuals and reach out to nonactive residents to invite them into programs.
  • Manage the fitness space, including ensuring amenities are well stocked and equipment is in good working order.
  • If your personal trainer isn’t doing these things for you, it’s worth spending some time to re-envision what’s possible in your exercise program. Your residents deserve regular access to diverse classes that respect and challenge them physically. They will participate more if a fitness professional is available to customize exercise plans for them and to help them evaluate their progress along the way. And having a point person who is tracking the participation data and is constantly innovating will draw in more residents who wouldn’t engage without a personal invitation.

The right fitness professional is a major benefit to your business.

This is a tough one. Community leadership seems to have a difficult time making the leap from status-quo group fitness classes and the occasional trainer to establishing a manager for a robust fitness program. Maybe that’s consumer driven, and today’s residents, for the most part, aren’t balking at the outdated model. Maybe the lack of change is rooted in where fitness falls on the priority list.

Yet, with the right fitness center manager on board, you can free up your activities director to actually create person- and purpose-centered activities instead of tracking down a substitute for the group fitness instructor who just bailed on a class. You also send a distinct message to prospects and current residents that healthy living is central to who you are. And because so many communities are still operating on the outdated “group fitness + occasional trainer” model, you clearly distinguish your senior living community from the competition.

If you’re ready to start tapping into these benefits, you can either hire your own fitness center manager for the community, or partner with an organization like ours (NIFS fitness center management) to start improving the fitness program for your residents.

 Senior Fitness

 

Topics: CCRC senior living nifs fitness management staffing senior fitness personal trainers nifs fitness center management

Senior Living Activities: Changing the Name or Changing the Notion

I read a blog recently on the Eden Alternative website about the power of language, in which the author quoted Alan A. Watts: “the menu is not the meal.” She was outlining her thoughts about words like “elder,” and “care partner,” and “home”—an important discussion! But the blog also got me thinking (as a good blog should) about lifestyle programming in communities. 

What If the Activities Director Was Called Something Else?

In the last five years, the senior living industry has started to make a title shift away from Activities Director and toward alternatives like Lifestyle Director, Life Enrichment Director, and Program and Events Director. Yet, this subtle shift in position naming, though necessary, is insufficient to make a true paradigm shift in how we support the elders who choose to reside in a senior living community. Changing the name is not the same as changing the notion.

I think the senior living industry as a whole is feeling a nudge (maybe it’s a push) toward doing better for our clientele. Consider the CCRC NameStorm from LeadingAge. The goal was to build a new potential name for Continuing Care Retirement Communities that would resonate with current and future buyers for this kind of product.

The idea about changing your activities department to your life enrichment department is the same: build something that resonates with your market. Still, as the Alan A. Watts quote hits home perfectly, simply changing the name is not enough. You can’t just create new name badges, update the job title on the position descriptions, order new business cards, and call it done. It’s not enough to simply change the name; we have to also (or at least) change the notion, the idea, of what activities can become in senior living. 

In fact, I would posit that you could actually keep the “activities department” if the staff are genuinely focused on building a better lifestyle for each resident. If they understand the personal passions, interests, desires, limitations, and fears of the members and provided “activities” that truly engaged those desires, the name “activities department” works just fine. 

But if your life enrichment department is still focused on filling the calendar to simply entertain residents, they are functioning the same way they were when you called them “Activities.” When they’re taking orders from a vocal minority of residents to drive largely homogeneous activities each month, they’re doing what they’ve always done, regardless of the name change.

Three Ways to Turn Activities into Life Enrichment

senior_group_ThinkstockPhotos-528133531

So how do we start to make that shift, away from the same old filling-the-calendar senior living activities to facilitating life-enriching opportunities that allow the residents to live the lives they want to live? Here are three ways to start looking beneath the surface of your calendar to cultivate meaningful experiences for your participants.

  1. Get to know your customer. How well do you really know the members of your community? Sure, you know names, and there are “regulars” you know better than most. But how well do you know where they came from and what makes them tick? Can you get information from the sales staff discovery process to start building a profile on each member? What questions do you need answered about each resident that could be folded into the discovery process so that newly moved-in members don’t feel like they’re being poked and prodded to provide you with answers? How can you use the intel you get to start building experiences for each resident?
  2. Get creative with your budget. Budgets are what they are, and changing the name of your department isn’t going to suddenly give you unlimited funds. Yet, if you’re listening to your residents, and understanding how they want to live your in community, you may find that helping them accomplish just that does not require additional FTEs or operating funds. Sometimes pairing folks with common interests can allow an organic opportunity to form without costing the community a thing. For example, suppose, through discovery, you learn that you have four residents who love to play chess and who are passionate about teaching others to play. Once you connect those four members and help them determine times to establish a “club,” or ways to connect with a local after-school program to teach the game they love, you’re on your way to fulfilling a social, intellectual, and vocational pursuit for your members. 
  3. Get familiar with the numbers. If you’re in the business of filling calendars, there’s no reason to gather data. You can see from the calendar that it’s full. But if you are focused on building purposeful programming that allows participants to live more full lives, I suggest you start to get a handle on whether your efforts are making an impact. For example, many of your residents may still be working. How does your 10am group fitness class resonate for them? Does it fit their schedules? I’ve heard a lot of directors say that no one will do activities (except the theatre or related events) after 4pm, so they don’t program anything after 4pm. Do you know that because of what happened historically, or do you know that because you know your members and you know the data?

I’ll be speaking at the 2015 LeadingAge Annual Meeting on this very idea of data from activities programming. If you’re reaching for a way to do better for the members you serve, consider putting my session on your schedule.

Topics: CCRC senior wellness programs data collection senior living communities program planning activities enrichment

The Power of Massage Therapy in Senior Wellness

senior_back_painI am a firm believer in massage therapy because a little over a year ago, I woke up in agonizing lower-back pain that did not allow me to move. My first thought was maybe I should go see a chiropractor. I had been to one before, but was not the biggest fan because they cracked my back and sent me on my way after charging $65. 

This time, I did my research and found a well-rounded practice that offered a full evaluation prior to the treatment to be sure they could help me and not further injure my back. Here, they first did a 30-minute session with a massage therapist, applied heat while rolling the back, and then I saw the chiropractor. In my situation, I needed the full run-through. Now that my injury is better, I can maintain the relief with strength exercises, stretching, and massage. 

So when I began working at a senior living community and found that the community had a regularly visiting massage therapist, I thought, “How very lucky we are to have a certified massage therapist!” She has her own room and setup that the resident can enjoy, or she can meet them at their apartment if that is more comfortable for them. I have found, though, that many CCRC residents do not take advantage of this resource just because they aren’t fully educated on the benefits.

How Often Should You Visit a Therapist?

Believe it or not, it can be to your greatest advantage to visit a massage therapist a two or three times a month. Often, it is thought that massage is a luxury visit to a spa once in a blue moon for some rest and relaxation. While it is great for that, massage is something that can be done in a less expensive setting and more often so that you can reap the benefits. 

What Is Massage?

What exactly is massage? Massage is a general term for pressing, rubbing, and manipulating the skin, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The combination of movements and sequence in which the therapist works is meant to alleviate pain, reduce the stress we carry in that area, and treat a wide variety of conditions. And the great thing? If it isn’t your cup of tea, you can just forget about it and try something else. 

Types of Massage

There are different variations of massage, depending on what the need is. Need relaxation? You’ll want a Swedish massage. Have a pain in the low back? You may need a deep-tissue or trigger-point massage. The great thing is, the massage therapist will know which is likely best for your situation. 

Benefits of Massage Therapy

While more research is needed to confirm the benefits of massage, some studies have found massage may also be helpful for the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Digestive disorders
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia related to stress
  • Myofascial pain syndrome
  • Paresthesias and nerve pain
  • Soft tissue strains or injuries
  • Sports injuries
  • Temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ)

Here are some additional benefits of massage therapy.

Ask Your Doctor

One last thing, massage isn’t meant to replace regular care from your physician, and when a member complains of a pain that sounds most like a muscle or ligament pain, I suggest they ask their doctor whether seeing a massage therapist would be a good idea. 

When Massage Might Not Be a Good Idea

If one of these is something you suffer from, massage may not be right for you: 

  • Bleeding disorders or take blood-thinning medication
  • Burns, open or healing wounds
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Fractures
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Severe thrombocytopenia

Before I go, I want to encourage you to take a look at this alternative medicine and the role it can play in senior wellness. It has relatively low risk and can be very beneficial. Does your community offer this onsite? Would you like for them to? If you have a leisure services or wellness department, that might be the place to start. 

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Topics: senior wellness CCRC continuing care retirement community stress relief injury prevention massage

Does This Count as Exercise? A Senior Fitness Challenge

Recently we were challenged at our senior community to increase our exercise and record it to send to our corporate office, in hopes of raising awareness of how important exercise is for those who have Alzheimer’s and those hoping to prevent it through senior fitness.

An Exercise Challenge for Alzheimer’s Awareness

The Goal: Each community needed to accumulate around 1,500 hours of exercise in 60 days, which would translate to 100,000 total hours from all communities.

The Prize: The corporate office would donate $10,000 to the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter.

The great thing about this challenge is that we already have many group exercise opportunities where hours are easily accumulated, as well as a fitness center that members can utilize. But we wanted to amp up the amount of exercise residents were doing because, after all, it is a challenge to exercise more to bring awareness.  

While explaining this challenge to the residents and fielding questions the following weeks, I found that many residents and members did not know what was considered exercise. I was getting questions left and right, “Is this exercise? Does this count?” 

ThinkstockPhotos-163162703_1What Counts as Exercise?

So here is the thing: exercise doesn’t have to be a hard workout routine only in a fitness center or group fitness setting. Some folks feel as though that is what exercise is, and I am happy to break the news that it is not the only way to get in exercise! Guess what, things that you enjoy as well as activity needed for healing count as exercise!

Here is a list of the “does this count” exercises residents asked me about. 

These are just a handful of the activities residents are participating in that they weren’t sure would count as exercise. The great thing about fitness and activity is that there are many avenues to take in order to reach the level of fitness you are looking for. Exercise does not have to be a boring, long-drawn-out routine. 

If a regimented fitness center routine is what you like for your workout, that is great!  But, if you need something else to hold your interest, whether it is a game like corn toss or working long hours in your garden, it is best to do an activity that you will stick with. And if you want to add intensity or are having a hard time finding what suits your interest, that’s the best time to consult with your fitness specialist to plan out exercises or activity that are best for you!

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Topics: senior wellness CCRC senior fitness senior living community exercise and wellness exercise for elderly Alzheimer's Disease

What Does Wellness Really Mean for Senior Living Communities?

Our use of the word “wellness” in senior living is confusing and potentially problematic for the consumer. When the possible definition by organization for “wellness” swings all the way from a few group fitness classes at one community to a full-blown medical clinic in another organization, it’s challenging to succinctly define what is being offered under the wellness banner. 

Nurse_doing_fitnessThinkstockPhotos-474647990Sometimes I visit a community and they have a wellness director who is an RN with primary responsibilities for running the community’s outpatient clinic and helping residents navigate their health care needs. In other cases, I interact with an individual at the community level whose title is wellness director, but whose primary roles are focused on running the fitness program. Those two individuals have two very different focus areas, diverse areas of expertise, and they offer two entirely different value propositions for prospective residents. And neither of them paints a full picture of what community wellness can be.

How you define your community in the area of wellness can be a point of distinction and a clear competitive edge for your business. But I wonder if that definition is best suited to be made at the community level or if there is a need, or even better a benefit, to defining it at an industry level. LeadingAge has initiated a “NameStorm” to find a new term for “continuing care retirement community” (CCRC). Is there a need for this kind of industry-wide focus on how we universally define wellness in senior living?

If we use the well-recognized dimensions of wellness (and I’ll go with the seven defined by the ICAA) as the means to define individual wellbeing, then the essential duties of the RN clinic director and the fitness program manager fold into various dimensions. But so do the essential duties of several other common jobs at a CCRC, including the activities director, the social worker, the dietician, the chaplain, etc. I could argue that each employee at the community has some portion of his essential duties impacting resident wellness.

I think, in a lot of cases, we get wellness all wrong. We want to box it into neat compartments, but it really spills out to all areas of the organization. Wellness is about building meaningful lifestyle opportunities for residents. It’s about honoring who they are as individuals and finding ways to help them tap into what motivates them, what provides them with purpose, and what keeps them engaged in life.

As I’ve started shifting my view on resident wellness in senior living to this broader perspective, I’ve started wondering whether resident wellbeing doesn’t need to sit a little higher in the organizational chart. Wellness isn’t just fitness and it’s not just activities. It doesn’t belong under either of those “departments.” It’s not limited to nutrition or spiritual designations, and it’s not focused on health care and clinical services.

Perhaps it’s the culture we’re trying to build.

But if that’s true, if wellness provides a cultural focus for our organizations, then each employee needs to have a stake in what it means to provide person-centered opportunities for well-being. And that message needs to come from the top. It can be supported by a well-developed employee wellness offering, as well (which is being discussed more and more in senior living). It can get folded into employee goals, job descriptions, and team meetings. And while one person should probably have ultimate responsibility for wellness in the community, it cannot operate in a silo apart from other elements that are unique to what your community offers. (This post talks more about how the various departments can collaborate better.)

How are you cultivating wellness beyond your fitness programming, your activities calendar, and your clinic?

Download our whitepaper on how you can create a culture of wellness in your senior living community.

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Topics: senior wellness CCRC continuing care retirement community