Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

How One Senior Living Community Got Focused on Brain Fitness

senior_puzzleMost senior living communities have a variety of group fitness classes on their calendars focused on balance, muscular strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health, and the clients we work with are no different. But we’ve landed on a program tied in with our group fitness classes for seniors that has become wildly popular with the residents. It turns out, it’s been a great way to draw more participants into the exercise program, too.

The Popularity of Brain Activities

At one of our client’s communities we have many of the typical activities to stimulate the mind: card games, lectures, forums, resident committees, etc. And at one point we offered a “Memory” workshop series. This was so popular that we added a word of the day and the TriBond® game to our daily information board in the fitness center, along with including puzzles in our newsletter.

Over time, we noticed that more and more people started coming to the fitness center to learn the word of the day, to get the TriBond® puzzle, and to ask questions about the puzzle in the newsletter. It was obvious that our residents were craving ways to challenge their minds, and we were eager to respond in ways that would help them keep their minds strong or increase their abilities.

So we added a brain fitness class to our group fitness schedule, and that class is thriving each week! In the weekly offering, our residents have a wonderful time challenging their minds. They learn new games like Sudoku, and play old games like Memory™. They also engage in history trivia questions and challenges. One of our residents recently named all 44 presidents, in order, off the top of her head!

How to Start Brain Fitness Classes at Your CCRC

We’ve started offering this type of class at our other senior living client sites with similar popularity. Here’s some advice on how you can get it started in your community:

  • Hold an event such as a brain fitness fair for your residents to see how fun and important it is to continue to work on the mind.
  • During the event, pay attention to what the residents like and don’t like. This will help you build a class structure that works for them.
  • Do not always make the class what they like. In order to strengthen the mind we need to challenge it. Typically the things that we do not like are the things that we find challenging.
  • Begin putting puzzles in your weekly or monthly newsletters.

Brain Class Structure

For the structure of the class, consider the following ideas:

  • Begin with a task that can be done while waiting for everyone to come in and sign in. (Example: Write your name with your non-dominant hand or with both hands at the same time.)
  • Have classical music playing in the background. Some studies show this increases the brainwaves that stimulate thought process.
  • Come prepared with four to five activities. Make it a variety of word games, long-term memory/short term memory, and deductive reasoning. Here are some sites that might provide some ideas:,,, and
  • Leave time for discussion in small groups and then time with you for answers.
  • Have the answers for all activities to share with the participants. (The residents will be angry if you don’t!)
  • If you do not finish all activities, consider giving “homework.”

Learn more about physical exercises that help improve cognition here.

Let us know how your brain fitness program works in your setting! We’d love to keep sharing these kinds of ideas to improve the health of the residents we work with. 

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Topics: CCRC active aging senior living communities brain health cognitive function resident wellness programs memory

Active Aging: What if your activities director stopped being an order taker

timeoutIt’s busy at your community; sometimes it’s so busy that residents complain they have a hard time choosing what program to attend.  Inevitably, the calendar is so full they have to miss events they love in order to attend something else. And your activities director is at the heart of that bustling calendar. 

She’s responding to her monthly resident committee, and she’s fielding one-off requests from residents who stop by her office or who catch her in the hall.  She’s also responding to phone calls from community groups or individuals who are interested in performing for or working with the residents. 

Oh, and don’t forget the opportunities offered by other areas of the community.  The therapy group has a monthly educational presentation they want to do.  The fitness manager runs a host of exercise classes each week and wants to draw residents into his quarterly competitions.  The dietician and chef want to host a bi-monthly cooking demonstration, and the social worker wants to bring in experts from the community as resources for the residents. 

Your activities director performs a delicate balancing act every month taking “orders” (requests) from residents and the community; all while, she’s balancing 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. 

If this sounds like your community, then you can agree that it is indeed busy. 

And yet, busy doesn’t build purpose. 

Residents in your community aren’t looking solely to be entertained.  They’re 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, and to grow, and to connect in new and challenging ways. 

What if your activities director stopped being an order taker?  What if she stopped using the meeting minutes from her monthly committee minute as a to do list and started thinking strategically about how to engage a variety of stakeholders in the planning process for resident events and activities?

You see, right now, the activities director is functioning much like the wait staff in your dining venues.  She’s greeting a table (resident committee), introducing herself (new residents), and asking residents what they want to do.  She’s taking their orders, and fulfilling the requests (as best she can).  And in fact, there’s nothing wrong with that model.  It’s what happens in most communities on a regular basis.  In most cases, residents are quite happy with their program/event options.

So, if the residents are happy, why on earth would I be talking about a different way of building lifestyle at the community? 

Because there’s more richness out there for your residents; there is more that can be done to build purposeful living.  And there are residents who don’t participate because you haven’t tapped their interest or desires yet.  (Oh, there is also marketing goodness on the table with a changed approach.)

If your activities director moved away from taking orders, could she build 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?

To be clear, I’m not advocating you turn programming on its head. (We do not need your residents in an uproar over substantial changes to beloved activities.)  I am instead suggesting that your activities director take a fresh approach to how the calendar is organized, who is supporting events, how events are developed, and how success is measured. 

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.  I linked a few of our blogs above for more information as well.  If you’re still not sure where to go to get started, or you’d like a more hands on approach, consider bringing us onsite for consulting to help you chart a course to build a multidimensional activities calendar that cultivates purpose for your residents.

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Topics: active aging senior living communities

Active Aging: Breathe Life into Olympic Programming (Part 1 of 2)

seniors high fiveMany communities have regularly scheduled recreational activities on the monthly calendar such as croquet, bocce ball, or Wii that seem like fairly logical programs to spin into Olympics-themed events in senior living communities.  Still, it’s not enough to simply group these regularly occurring events together and call them your Community Olympics.  How do you set up the initiative so that it has broad appeal and allows those residents who participate in the events regularly to feel inspired and challenged alongside their novice neighbors?  This two-part blog will provide creative tips to kick your Olympics up a notch with your resident favorites as well as provide fresh new ideas for events.

Part I: Kick it up a notch

Many active aging residents, who participate in weekly recreational offerings such as shuffleboard, putting contests, are quite good. Wait, I take that back –they are really excellent! After all they are playing on a regular basis (perhaps their entire lives) and enjoying the friendly competition amongst their neighbors. As the media starts to promote the next Summer or Winter Olympics and you begin brainstorming ideas for another competition, consider how to create something that will be a truly memorable experience for your residents when they are already playing and honing their skills on a regular basis.

Get more of the community involved:

While some residents aren’t interested competing, that element of competition can breathe life into your Olympics and get more residents involved by tapping into volunteers as well as creating spectator opportunities. Create opportunities for your non-competitive residents to engage as volunteers to be scorekeepers, line judges, and coordinators for the individual events. Furthermore as you designate various venues for your events, make sure you include space for spectators and consider offering light refreshments. Market the opportunity for residentsin your senior living community to come and watch and cheer on their neighbors participating in the events. You could even host a workshop where residents can make banners or signs to bring with them and cheer on the Olympians. This can inspire not only your competing Olympian to feel the support of their neighbors, but it might also inspire a resident who is watching the event to give it a try themselves the next time around.

Make it a formal affair:

I’m not talking black ties and ball gowns, but do consider hosting a more formal approach to an Olympics by including an opening and closing ceremony as well as medals ceremonies for the different events you offer. Promote these ceremonies to the entire community and not just the Olympians. If residents are already use to regular tournaments for the recreational programs at the community, these ceremonies can help set your Olympics apart from the offering they partake in from month to month.  If you are hosting a variety of different events in your Olympics, have a parade at your Opening Ceremonies to present your Olympians in each event. If you are able to tap into resident volunteers and spectators, recognize their contributions with spirit awards at your Closing Ceremonies. 

Residents Unite!

Your residents are already competing amongst themselves on a regular basis. Why not unite your residents into a team and invite neighboring retirement communities to be your opposition for the Olympics. Plan the friendly competition well in advance so all participating communities have a chance to practice and hone their skills at the events that will be offered. While corn hole, for example, may be a big hit with your residents, it may be a new activity to residents at another community and they’ll need some time to reach Olympian status. This can motivate your residents to come together as a team and provide a fresh spin on an activity they already know and love.

Up next in part II of this blog, I’ll outline the variety of events you can consider for your Olympic Games.

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Topics: active aging senior living best practices active living senior living communities fitness programming

Active Aging: Lessons Learned for Teaching Classes in Memory Care

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Just like any exercise program, there is a long list of health benefits that come with exercising. In fact, exercise not only improves physical health, but cognitive health as well. The Alzheimer’s Association widely accepts that, “Physical exercise is essential for maintaining good blood flow to the brain as well as to encourage new brain cells. It also can significantly reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes, and improve oxygen consumption”. Though memory impairments affect the body’s cognitive heath, it’s important to perform cognitive and physical activities to improve brain function. The body also needs strength and endurance to perform its activities of daily senior living such as eating, dressing, and getting around your home.

With this in mind, we began offering a special class to meet the unique needs of the memory-care residents at our community. We made it our goal to incorporate exercise as a means of fall prevention and overall improvement of physical and mental health. Having taught group exercise for quite some time, I thought this would be an easy transition. I reached out to my colleagues for advice on specific exercise recommendations for older adults with memory impairments and quickly mapped out an exercise class format. Boy was I surprised when I taught the class for the first time!

The normal exercise cuing of “Lift your right leg up. That’s 1, 2, now 3….” just didn’t cut it. Some of the individuals followed, but most of the residents looked at me with confused faces. One resident even said, “You know you are a really bad dancer!”. So, over the next couple months, with much trial, error and research I developed a new class called “Moving Minds”.

The new class incorporates seated exercises that are both engaging and effective. We always begin with a short warm-up with seated marching and a game. The game is as simple as passing around a beach ball, bean bag toss, or some form of bowling. This gets the residents moving and their brain focused for the main exercises. Our main exercises include low-impact joint movement and stretching. We use equipment such as pool noodles, balloons and bouncy balls to add a little fun.  The residents love doing the exercises with the noodles and are always playful with each other.

I always encourage the residents to count with me out loud as we go through the exercises. After 10-15 minutes of our main exercises we wrap up with another game. We also engage in conversation while doing the exercises where I ask the date, day of week, and various other questions. Some are more attentive than others, but they always have something interesting to say. One of my most enjoyable residents, yells “10, big fat hen!” every time we count to 10.

Overall, the residents’ health is continuing to improve and I have noticed small gains in cognitive ability. Sometimes the residents remember my name and I can tell they are getting used to their Moving Minds routine. The Center for Brain Health states, “Physical exercise may be one of the most beneficial and cost-effective therapies widely available to everyone to elevate memory performance”.

Moving Minds may not look like a typical exercise class-in fact, I still have residents who comment on my “bad dancing” or make animal noises the entire time we exercise. However, the truth lies in their many giggles and big smiles as they leave the class. Each week I’m reminded how great it is to work with this population.

Quick Tip to Strengthen Your Community Exercise Program

Topics: active aging senior living senior living communities group fitness for seniors memory care