Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

4 Keys to Getting Wellness Program Data You Can Actually Use

NIFS | Wellness DataPart 1: Setting Your Program Up for Success

I think our staff members roll their eyes every time they hear me start talking about gathering data from our programs. That might be because I talk about it a lot; it might also be because I’m a little bit of a geek about data. Regardless, they can eye-roll all they want, because when the data gathering and program evaluation is done right, well, it’s a beautiful thing! 

Let me explain by using an example from a program that recently wrapped up at one of our senior living client locations. “The Wellness Challenge” has been offered for two years at the community. It’s a good wellness survey type of program that encourages residents to dig into all dimensions of wellness. There are several positive and important elements to The Wellness Challenge:

  • It’s a team challenge, so there’s potential for socialization built into the fabric of the program.
  • The program is open to residents and employees, so there is a very real buzz at the community, with individuals across the campus engaged in the challenge.
  • It capitalizes on the healthy resolution wave that follows the indulgence that is the end-of-the-year holiday time.
  • The challenge runs that perfect, sweet-spot length of seven weeks. (We find that most programs of this type are ideally suited to run somewhere between six to eight weeks.)

Now, to be fair, this program was not the brainchild of the current NIFS manager, Reggie. However, he was able to take the original offering from his predecessor, which involved no evaluation strategy, and transform it so that we have both a rich offering for the client, and actionable data that will inform future offerings of both this program and others like it.

What, you ask, is actionable data? Good question! In this two-part blog, we’ll look at four tips for getting the data you want from your wellness program. Part 1 focuses on the before-you-launch-the-program elements (tips #1 and #2). Part 2 will focus on during-the-program and post-program components (tips #3 and #4).

#1: Begin at the Beginning

The whole evaluation and data thing starts by being strategic with the program on the front end. That’s right; we are moving away from running fun programs just to run them (shocking, I know). The staff members actually set program goals before they run the program and then they make sure that the program they’re offering is set up in a way to allow for evaluation of those goals.

  • You can’t assess your progress on the goals if they aren’t actually measureable. This sounds intuitive, but people miss the boat on it all the time. Establish goals that are S.M.A.R.T. For more on this concept, check out this blog.
  • Create goals that tie back to your overall program goals. For example, if you’re trying to increase visits to your group exercise classes, establish a goal to increase overall class attendance, or maybe focus on how many new people you can get into class with this program. (If you’re lacking focus for your overall wellness program, you probably should start there before you dig too deeply into meaningless goals for programs that don’t connect back to a larger strategy.)
  • Keep the list fairly short. This isn’t a research study with all kinds of grant money and data heads behind it. Stick to what you know, and keep the goals manageable in terms of volume; two to three goals per program has worked for us.
  • Before you get too far ahead of yourself with lofty, complicated goals that make you sound really smart, you also need to be sure you have the tools to measure the goals. In truth, most of our staff are operating with fairly traditional supports. We use a lot of spreadsheets (though not infinitely complex ones), and in some cases we have software that helps with visit reporting, etc.

#2: Map Out the “How”

You’ve established these two to three program goals. They are succinct; they tie back to your overall wellness program focus; they are written on a scale you can support. Great job! Now it’s time to map out your plan to actually achieve those goals.

No, it’s not enough to outline the goals and then just run the program. That’s like pulling up to the shooting range and saying, “Ready…Fire!” Forgetting to aim means you will most likely miss your target―unless you are extremely lucky.

For example, if you set a goal to increase group fitness class attendance by 15% for the duration of the program, you need to outline the steps you will take to achieve that goal. In the case of The Wellness Challenge, Reggie built the program so that participation in group classes was weighted more heavily than some other activities, and he gave more points for participating in cardiovascular exercise (which, he emphasized, could be achieved by taking classes). In short, he incentivized what he was trying to drive people to do. (Genius, I know!)

You won’t want to miss part 2 of this blog, where we look into how to run the program and what to do when it’s over.

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Topics: NIFS senior wellness programs senior fitness management program evaluation data

Top 5 Reasons Your Residents Don’t Engage in Wellness

In my work with continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) across the U.S., I’ve seen resident SHCV_DartArt_NSHFD.jpgwellness programs and services come in all shapes and sizes. These days, it seems all senior living communities advertise some kind of wellness opportunity for their residents. Clearly, communities are getting the message about how important resident well-being really is for both the resident and the business.

Resources like the National Whole Person Wellness survey that can guide and inform both strategic and tactical decisions for a community wellness initiative are becoming more commonly available. Similarly, the swell around opportunities like the International Council on Active Aging’s focus on Active Aging Week have sparked creative programming for older adults to engage in vibrant living.

For all of the fantastic diversity in wellness programming, resources, and opportunities available in senior living settings, there seems to be a consistent theme for many providers. They pull together initiatives only to have the same core group of residents participate. Simply put, there is a lack of robust resident engagement in the programs put forward by resident life coordinators.

It’s not an all-inclusive list, but what I’ve offered below represents some of the most common challenges I have seen in communities where NIFS provides staffing services or where I’ve offered wellness program consulting. If you find yourself nodding your head in affirmation as you read, it might be time to take a fresh look at what you’re offering and how you’re providing it.

Reason 1: You failed to leverage community champions as a promotional avenue.

Trying a new group fitness class, sampling from a new healthy menu, or participating in a new wellness initiative can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. There’s nothing like a personal invitation from a neighbor or trusted friend to help nudge you toward trying something new.

If you’re not working with your top resident participants to capitalize on their success as a tool for inviting new residents to engage, you’re missing out. Personal invitation, testimonials, and other individual connection can be very successful tools for attracting other, less active residents toward wellness programming.

  • Capture testimonials in resident newsletters and on community bulletin boards/CCTV.
  • Talk to specific residents prior to launching a new initiative and ask them to invite their friends to join them. Tell them why you think their personal invitation is so important. Perhaps suggest specific residents they could connect with for the activity.
  • Build a “refer a friend” component into your next activity challenge.

Reason 2: Power grabs and silos are overshadowing what’s really possible at your community.

Oh my goodness and for the love of Mike, please stop with the power grabs when it comes to activity programming in the community. No one wins when the activity director, the physical therapy group, and the fitness manager are vying for control of programs, spaces, and resident loyalty.

When community staff learn to play well together in the same programs and services sandbox, the community will benefit.

  • Activities staff should be eager to learn from their fitness director how to fold more exercise and other healthy messages into their standard programming. For what it’s worth, if you’ve done your homework and gotten the right person to direct your fitness center, then he or she is likely also qualified to provide expertise related to whole-person wellness.
  • The fitness director and the therapy department should be eagerly working together on a cross-referral program that supports appropriate therapy for residents in need and fitness program participation to maintain the positive work completed in therapy.

Reason 3: You forgot to ask the residents what they want to learn about and how they want to grow.

Communities are practiced at surveying residents, but those surveys typically encompass overall living at the community. Rarely are communities engaged in surveying residents about what their wellness interests and expectations are. Even rarer are custom focus groups where much can be learned about resident perspectives on current and future healthful-living offerings.

Reason 4: Volunteerism by residents is overlooked as a strategy to get more done with less staff.

Let’s face it : community financial resources are typically limited, and no one wants to charge residents more to expand services. So, you’re probably stuck with the staff resources you currently have. If that’s the case, consider tapping into occupational wellness by engaging resident volunteers to own some of the community wellness initiatives.

  • Walking groups, small-group Bible study, craft or hobby groups, and promotion and health-focused book clubs can all be resident driven.
  • You may be able to engage tech-savvy residents to support program data collection and analysis. Who could help you convert the manual attendance records into your software or spreadsheet for later analysis?

Reason 5: Data is king. If you don’t have data, you won’t know what’s working.

If I had a nickel for every time I talked to community professionals who told me they weren’t tracking attendance in their programs, I’d be set for early retirement. Folks, you need to start gathering data on your initiatives. It doesn’t have to be hard and the numbers don’t have to be confusing. But if you keep burying your head in the sand on numbers because you’re “not good with numbers,” you will forever be left with initiatives that are about as effective as slapping spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.

  • Start small with participation numbers. Take attendance in your group fitness classes to learn which residents are coming and how often. Have residents self-report participation in the next healthy food tasting event, etc.
  • Refer to #4 for some support on how to use participation numbers to track trends over time.
  • Work with your marketing staff to find out what kinds of numbers they need to market your community’s wellness program, and then determine how to capture that data for them.

 What will you do next?

I’m not a fan of change for the sake of change alone. Still, sometimes change (or evolution, if you will) is necessary to elevate your offerings for the good of your community.

If you’re looking for a little help in evolving your community wellness strategy, visit our consulting page. If you busted right through the challenges above for top-notch service, share your best practices here!


 Are you ready to do wellness better? Learn more about wellness consulting.

Topics: senior center solutions senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center engagement senior fitness

Balance Programs: Are You Meeting Your Residents’ Needs?

Many communities offer balance training to their residents simply as a component of a group fitness class on the activities schedule. I’m here to tell you that is not enough! Residents need an opportunity for group classes solely dedicated to balance training, as well as balance assessments, equipment, and workouts in their community fitness centers.

Comprehensive balance training programming is often an early success when NIFS begins staffing a fitness center at retirement communities. We’ve been able to engage many residents in the fitness program who previously wouldn’t buy into other modes of physical activity, but they are chomping at the bit to participate in balance training opportunities that can decrease their risk of falls and improve their confidence. Doing so is sometimes a “gateway activity” to help residents recognize their abilities. After building that initial confidence, they experiment with a NuStep or a chair aerobics class. We’ve all got to start somewhere!

NIFS’ Balance Challenge ProgramNIFS Balance Challenge

To promote existing balance training programs at our CCRCs, NIFS will hold its inaugural Balance Challenge in March. The Balance Challenge program encompasses different elements of our regularly offered balance training programs and services as well as a few new opportunities for residents. Participants will track their activity on a scorecard and will be required to participate in group classes, educational lectures, assessments, fitness center workouts, obstacle courses, and much more to complete the Challenge. The program is designed with activity options for residents of varying ability levels so it can be marketed to someone new to the fitness program looking to get into a routine, or for seasoned participants to further hone their skills.

All participants in the Challenge will complete a Fullerton Advanced Balance Scale test as well as a pre- and post-program survey in which they will rate their current balance skills and confidence levels. In future programs, we hope to see that our participants are maintaining or improving their balance abilities as well as their confidence levels through engaging in not only the month-long Challenge, but also throughout the year in regularly scheduled programs. (Consider the marketing advantages for a community with data of this nature to back up the effectiveness of your balance programs!)

Things to Consider When Starting a CCRC Balance Program

Here are a few key considerations when launching a comprehensive balance program for your residents:

  • Who is qualified to lead these types of classes and services for your residents?
  • How will you track the impact the program is having on your residents’ functional abilities and how will you utilize that information?
  • How can you utilize resident volunteers to act as your balance champions to demonstrate exercises, provide testimonials, etc., on the effectiveness of the program? (Residents seeing their peers demonstrate exercises may help them get over any fears of participating.)
  • How can you partner with your community therapy department in balance program offerings?

Whether your community already has a variety of balance training opportunities, or you are looking to launch some new initiatives, consider how a comprehensive program can help spark enthusiasm in your residents!

Senior Fitness, teaching balance
Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness management balance senior fitness balance training

How to Improve Balance with Weight Shifting Exercises

The number-one challenge that the aging population faces is balance because the number-one concern is falling. The question has always been, “What causes these falls and how can we continue to prevent them”? The answer from a recent study is outstanding (no pun intended!).

Study Shows What Causes Senior Falls

An observational study determined how and why falls occur in the aging population by actually videotaping falls in two long-term-care facilities between 2007 and 2010. These video cameras were placed in the common areas such as the dining rooms, hallways, and lounges. When a fall occurred it was reviewed with a focus on the actual cause of imbalance and the activity at the time of falling. The study captured 227 falls from 130 individuals. The result of the study concluded that the number-one cause of falls (41 percent) was incorrect weight shifting: basically, how one moves or transfers from one position to another.

The study identified that the majority of falls occurred during standing and transferring, how we go from the position of standing still to starting to move. Staying balanced doesn’t involve only maintaining it when we are in motion, but the study has proven that how we begin that motion can be much more crucial to staying in balance.

Weight-Shifting Exercises for Senior Fitness and Balance

Therefore, in order to improve balance and prevent falls, it is crucial that a balance program incorporate weight-shifting exercises to help teach seniors about their center of gravity. Weight-shifting exercise can also improve coordination, strengthen the muscles in the lower extremities, and teach slower and more precise movements. Older adults should speak with a qualified fitness professional who understands the functional needs of the population, including balance-training recommendations. Fitness professionals can administer balance-training and weight-shifting exercises through one-on-one personal training sessions, group exercise classes, or simple recommendations of exercises for one to include in his or her normal fitness routine.

Here are some examples of weight-shifting exercises for active older adults:

  • Side Sways: While seated in a chair or standing, place the feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Leading with the upper body, lean the body gently to the right while keeping both feet in contact with the floor. Repeat in the other direction. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
  • Forward Steps: Standing with the feet together near a chair back or counter top to hold onto, take an exaggerated step forward with the right foot. Then take the necessary amount of steps to recover to a normal standing position. Repeat 8 to 10 times and then perform on the left leg.

If you are interested in reading about the study and the specific findings, follow this link.

Download our QuickRead for more information on the importance of teaching physical balance in your active aging community!

Senior Fitness, teaching balance

Topics: senior wellness programs balance strength training senior fitness fall prevention

Senior Fitness: Importance of good posture

senior woman at computerGood posture is as important as eating right or having a good exercise routine. When you have good posture your body will work the way it is supposed to, keeping your muscles balanced and working together will also help prevent injuries. Poor posture can be caused by many different activities, one of them being that a person has overcompensated from an injury or fall. As society continues to be in sedentary positions and behind a computer these problems are going to continue. Excessive weight and careless standing, sitting or sleeping habits will also lead to poor posture.

For seniors, decreases in physical activity as we age can be the primary culprit of poor posture. Sometimes these decreases in physical activity are a result of a diagnosis of a chronic health condition such as arthritis or neuromuscular conditions. The key is not to stop exercising when chronic health conditions arise, but to use exercise to help maintain posture and manage the symptoms of such conditions. When posture is out of alignment, it can increase an older adult’s susceptibility to falls.

There are a few things that you can do to help improve posture:

  1. Individuals need to make sure that they are in a healthy weight zone for their body type.
  2. Participate in a balanced exercise program that includes cardio, strength, and flexibility training. Classes such as Pilates or yoga are great ways to focus on strengthening and improving flexibility in the core muscles which support posture.
  3. Be aware of what chairs you have in your work space, as well as your home.

Use it or lose it - as we age, our muscles will get shorter and weaker if we are not using them. Poor posture can lead to head aches as well as back and neck pain. For more information on the importance of posture or activities you can do to help correct your posture please speak to fitness professionals or your doctor.

Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness fall prevention posture

Senior Wellness: New Year, New You

senior thumbs up resized 600While many residents aren’t burning the midnight oil to ring in the new year on December 31, that doesn’t mean that the spark of renewal and enthusiasm to embrace a new year is any less for these folks. The new year is a great time for senior living communities to launch or promote their community wellness program.

It’s important to utilize the momentum that a new year can spark for some residents, while also helping to uplift residents who may have struggled through the holiday season. Here are a few tips for helping your residents embrace the New Year:

  • Education: A wellness-based lifestyle can be a foreign concept to some older adults. Hold an educational lecture series highlighting the multiple dimensions of wellness. Describe the different dimensions of wellness and provide residents with examples of the regularly scheduled activities they can get involved in at the community related to the featured dimension.
  • Fitness: Help residents establish short- and long-term fitness goals in the new year and help them track their progress. Recognize when goals are met to help residents feel an early sense of accomplishment in the new year while further helping them continue to strive for longer-term goals.
  • Incentivize engagement: Schedule special activities in the first couple months of the year that touch on the different dimensions of wellness. Flag these activities on your calendar and tell residents that they will be entered into a prize drawing for each activity they participate in. You can also host a party for those residents who attend each of the special activities.
Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness management senior fitness

CCRC Fitness Centers - Is Bigger Always Better?

There is a trend NIFS | Senior Fitness Center Designamong owners and operators of continuing care retirement communities (CCRC) toward a focus on resident wellness.  The movement is based in research findings which indicate that opportunities for residents of CCRCs to live actively are important both to prospective residents as well as to family members of residents.  Couple those findings with the constant news updates about how good regular exercise is for older adults and its easy to see why senior living communities are so focused on ramping up their resident wellness programming.  

Perhaps the most visible element in a community's wellness program is their exercise offerings.  When I consult for clients on senior living fitness centers, I am often asked if size matters.  Does it matter that their fitness center is small, with only a few pieces of equipment?  Does it matter that they don't have dedicated group exercise class space?  They can't afford to put in a pool - is that a problem for growing their exercise program?

There is no short and simple answer. 

Size is an important consideration.  But it shouldn't be the only consideration.  Much positive and fulfilling life can be lived by your residents in even the smallest spaces.  We've worked with several clients who are small on space, but significant on providing meaningful and effective programming design to engage, not entertain, residents.  The challenge will be accomodating as many participants as possible when your footprint is tight.  Creative thinking can often help you solve issues like not enough equipment or overcrowding in exercise clases.

Where size does matter is when we're looking at the passion, personality, and skills of the individual(s) leading the exercise programming at your retirement community. Even the biggest, shiniest, most state of the art fitness centers, pools, and other healthful spaces will become like a ghost town if there is no staff presence (or it’s the wrong staff presence) there to connect with your residents. Personality and capability reign supreme when it comes to a quality, compelling, and invitational programming at your CCRC.

Getting the size of your staffing just right

You can provide your own staffing and hands down, that will be less expensive than working with a partner like NIFS.  Doing it yourself is generally less expensive than outsourcing a service.  However, before you convince yourself that you know what you should about hiring, training, and supporting a health promotion specialist in order to save some money, consider these reasons to outsource.

There’s a lot at stake here.  Not enough staffing, or the wrong staff member(s) could poke a serious hole in what should be an uplifting, feel-good offering at your community.  If you don’t have the money to spend on the bricks and mortar, make sure you have the resources to effectively operate what space you do have, or the entire investment could provide less than stellar results.

To find out more about the benefits of staffing your fitness center with the right people, click the button below to download our webinar:  10 Benefits to Adding Quality Staff in Your Community Fitness Center

Download NIFS Benefits of Staffing Webinar



Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center senior fitness

Senior Wellness: Can a healthy community culture can help your marketing department?

group of seniors with thumbs up

This blog was written by Emily Davenport.

As part of Active Aging Week, NIFS managers coordinated a Wellness Conference in which various community personnel and residents came together to speak about the wellness-based lifestyle programs and services available at the community. Many residents commented on being aware of certain programs and services, but not previously recognizing how cohesively the different departments worked together to provide an integrated wellness program.
Following the event, residents immediately approached our manager about the missed opportunity of filming the event for future viewing by new or prospective residents. We felt this resident response was a testament to how much current residents value their community wellness-offerings.
From the perspective of new residents to the community, existing residents identified the importance of early education about the wellness program at the community and to quickly integrate new residents into it. This speaks to the resident’s desire to keep not only their community vibrant and engaging, but to also enhance the lives of these individuals moving into the community. (If that doesn’t speak to a caring and nurturing environment for new residents to be welcomed into, I don’t know what does.)
From the perspective of prospective residents to the community, existing residents identified how critical these lifestyle options were for the active older adult and how marketable the community’s program is. It raises the question of what residents at this community might share with their friends and family about their lifestyle and how that may compare to residents of other communities without such an engaging wellness culture. Not only can a community’s image be impacted by having an engaging wellness program, but what are your best marketing assets spreading outside of the community about their lifestyle.
We are pleased that our Wellness Conference as part of Active Aging Week helped to further educate residents on the wellness offerings at the community and how whole-heartedly these individuals are embracing the programs for themselves and for others. 

Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center

Exercise Your Brain for Corporate and Senior Wellness

This blog was written by Mechelle Meadows. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

brain healthWhile exercising the brain is of great importance in retirement wellness centers to aid in preventing or reversing memory loss and dementia, it’s never too early to start actively increasing your “brain fitness.” Occasional memory loss happens to anyone, young or old. It often occurs in moments of fatigue, nervousness, or anxiety.

There are exercises you can do to increase memory and other cognitive skills. Just as you should incorporate variety and extra challenges into your physical exercise routines, you should do the same for your brain.

A few mental exercises suggested in this article from the Cleveland Plain Dealer are

  • Learn one new word per day and find ways to work it into normal conversation.
  • Learn a new language.
  • Perform routine tasks in a different way.

Often in retirement or corporate fitness centers, we challenge clients by asking them to close their eyes or stand on only one foot while they do basic strength exercises, thus heightening their proprioceptive awareness and teaching better balance. Similarly, the article says that when you change up simple daily tasks, such as unlocking your front door with your eyes closed, you are activating more senses and key areas of the brain, keeping your mental function at its top level.

Make it your goal to add one mental exercise, such as a crossword puzzle, to your daily routine!

Topics: corporate wellness senior wellness programs productivity brain health memory

Senior Wellness: Exer-games Provide Cognitive Benefit

This blog was written by Jenna Pearson. Meet our blogging fitness specialists at the NIFS website.

senior fitnessMost people would agree that regular exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle, but how much of an impact does physical activity really have on one’s health and well-being?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has been advocating exercise as medicine since 2008, and when you look at the statistics, the reasoning behind their now-famous Exercise is MedicineTM initiative becomes clear. Studies have shown that regular exercise does the following:

  • Lowers the risk of stroke by 27 percent.
  • Reduces the risk of developing type-2 diabetes by 58 percent.
  • Reduces the incidence of high blood pressure by approximately 50 percent.
  • Can reduce mortality and the risk of recurrent breast cancer by approximately 50 percent.
  • Can lower the risk of colon cancer by over 60 percent.
  • Can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by approximately 40 percent.
  • Can decrease symptoms of depression as effectively as Prozac or behavioral therapy.

Newer research also suggests that certain exercise provides cognitive benefits. Specifically, exer-gaming may delay—or even prevent—dementia, and has been shown to improve cognitive function in normal aging. Such exer-games include CyberCycle by Expresso and Shadowboxer ACTIVE.

Exer-games are also beneficial to physical aspects of health, as they shift one’s attention from the sometimes monotonous mindset of exercise to the task at hand, allowing them to put forth greater effort. Exer-games may also be more enticing for those who are easily bored by traditional exercise, thus helping them to more easily commit to a regular exercise routine.

Topics: motivation senior wellness programs senior fitness cognitive function memory dementia