Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Modifying Senior Fitness Programs for Assisted Living

Maintaining a well-run, popular senior fitness program in a CCRC can be tough. Often just managing the independent living fitness center is a full-time job for someone. Then, as residents move through the continuums in a community, they often start to miss out on the robust programming that was offered to them in independent living. So, what happens when a manager wants to extend programming into assisted living without adding a huge burden on themselves?


One answer could be to simply modify existing programs to better fit the assisted living population. This way, managers save some time with planning and can use many of the same program materials (which means saving money, too).

Here are a variety of tips for modifying senior fitness programs for assisted living: 

1. Make it a team effort.

One of the simplest ways to change an incentive program is to take it from an individual effort challenge to a team goal. For example, if the goal of the program in IL is to have a resident achieve 15 group fitness class visits over the course of a month, maybe the goal for AL would be to have the entire group achieve 35 group fitness classes over the month. Obviously, the goal numbers will depend on availability of classes and residents who want to participate, but you get the idea. Take it one step further and create a tracking poster to keep in the assisted living fitness area so residents can keep up on their progress.

2. Get volunteers involved.ThinkstockPhotos-533552808.jpg

Another way to make sure your assisted living program is successful is to involve some volunteers. Let’s say you’re doing a one-mile walking event for IL and you want to run the same event in assisted living. For IL, you can probably just market the event, promise some water and granola bars at the “finish line,” and residents will come out to participate. You could try the same thing in AL, but it certainly wouldn’t go over as well.

Instead, try recruiting volunteers (either staff or residents) and pair up with people while they walk. This way, your walk becomes not only about physical health, but also about social wellness and emotional wellness. Plus, most people would think of this event as an activity rather than just exercise, and so they are more likely to attend.

3. Recognize participants.

This isn’t actually a modification because it works equally well in both levels of care, but it’s still a great way to make the program a success. People love a recognition for their work. In assisted living, this can mean getting a little creative. Yes, you can stick with the typical throw-a-party-for-participants-at-the-end-of-the-program reward. Or you can try something a little different.

One of the simplest but most effective examples of this was during our Fitness Freeze last year. During this program, residents earn snowflakes for visits during the month of December. Instead of hanging them in the fitness center, one manager hung the snowflakes earned by assisted living residents on their doors. This resulted in two major positives:

  • When family and friends visited, residents could brag about their fitness center participation.
  • It brought more attention to the program and other residents started asking about how they could earn snowflakes.

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What other ways can you think of to modify existing independent living programming for other areas of the community?

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Topics: assisted living senior fitness independent living programming

Additional Resources for Enhancing Your Fitness Program

In parts I and II of this blog series, I discussed why it’s important to cultivate a robust health and fitness program for residents in AL and memory-care environments and how to tap into your existing personnel to make that happen. In this final blog of the series, I’m going to cover a few additional resources for enhancing your fitness program.

  • FullSizeR.jpg Consider how you can have a more inclusive environment in your IL fitness amenities: Can you establish criteria or resident support tools to invite AL or memory-care residents to use the existing exercise equipment in the fitness center or partake in group exercise classes with IL residents?
  • Develop a fitness space: Whether it is sectioning off a small corner of an existing activity or lounge space or building out an entire room for fitness equipment, having a dedicated fitness space or studio can be a great option for residents of all ability levels.
  • Dedicate a variety of exercise equipment options: It’s time to put down the pool noodles and the beach balls. There are a number of small fitness equipment pieces on the market that can create new challenges and variety in group exercise classes.
  • Consider qualified staff: The demand for quality fitness offerings for older adults has steadily increased in the past decade. Fortunately, there also more qualified fitness staff on the market who have experience catering to the unique needs of older adults. Working with a staffing partner like NIFS or hiring your own fitness professional to support your residents’ health and fitness needs even in a part-time capacity can be a significant enhancement to your program.

Through the course of this blog series, I’ve highlighted a variety of opportunities to enhance your fitness offerings for AL and memory-care residents.  While having qualified fitness staff can be a difference maker, there is quite a bit that existing activities staff can do to improve exercise offerings. With that being said, you already have a full plate of responsibilities to serve your residents and pausing to develop a strategy for doing fitness better might be a challenge. If you’re ready to improve your fitness program for residents in assisted living and memory care environments, find out more about how we can help you.

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Topics: exercise through the continuums assisted living memory care NIFS Workshop

3 Questions to Ask About Fitness in Assisted Living and Memory Care

ThinkstockPhotos-509493160.jpgWhile we've seen significant progress in what exercise can look like for residents in independent living (IL), for many communities, there remains something of a disconnect in making sure residents throughout the continuum of care have access to the same or similarly robust services and amenities. The IL residents at a community often have a fitness center, pool, robust group fitness calendar, and individualized services available to them and in many cases as they transition to AL or other areas of care on campus the drastic decline in available options shifts them from a professionally managed health and fitness program to chair-based exercise classes lead by an activities professional. This is not an equitable approach.

[Read More: 3 must-have services in your senior living community fitness center]

For our clients though, this hasn't been the case because our staff are pushing on the leading edge of what expanded fitness programming for residents in assisted living (AL), and memory-care environments can look like. If you’re ready to take a closer look at the exercise program you provide for residents in licensed areas, these three questions are a great place to start:

How do you answer questions about options for exercise in higher levels of care?

Whether you work in a standalone AL or memory-care community or in a Life Plan (CCRC) environment, prospects and families inevitably ask about the physical activity options that are available beyond billable rehab services. They understand the importance of keeping the mind and body in motion as part of a daily lifestyle. Does your community have a good answer for these questions that demonstrates robust options that are purposeful and executed by trained staff specially for residents who need a higher level of care?

How do you support residents after they finish therapy?

In licensed areas, residents often have rehab services readily available to them and that might seem like an easy "exercise" solution. However, billable therapy has limits. How do you support residents when they are discharged after 6-8 weeks of therapy and eliminate the revolving door of improved function leading to a discharge from therapy services followed by a decline due to lack of physical activity options which leads them back in therapy again?

How do you facilitate resident moves to higher levels of care in a way that provides them with consistent access to exercise options?

If you operate a Life Plan community with a robust fitness program for your IL residents, how do the residents’ options compare in terms of amenities, programs and services, and qualified staffing as residents move through the continuum? Having a continuation of offerings can be a great comfort as residents transition from one part of the community to another and it’s a valuable demonstration that the lifestyle they buy into in IL truly carries with them with whatever level of care they might need on campus.

Your answers to those questions may leave you with program and service gaps to fill.  In our 12+ years working in senior living, we’ve developed best practices in exercise with residents in assisted living and memory care for:

  • Group fitness class offerings beyond basic chair exercise classes taught by the activities staff
  • Individualized services including personal training and fitness and balance assessments
  • Dedicated exercise equipment and spaces
  • Enriching wellness-based programming opportunities

Want to learn more about how you can build more comprehensive exercise services for your residents?

Find out more about a free consulting session with NIFS >

Topics: assisted living senior fitness NIFS Workshop CCRC Programs and Services senior living exercise through the continuums