Exercise programs are adding huge benefits to social networking at local senior centres

Krystal Simpson
Healthy Living

Let’s take a quick poll. If you could exercise with a buddy, would you be more inclined to do so? How about a walking club, would you join one? If the answer is yes, you may not have to look much further than your local senior centre.

Senior centres across the province provide a meeting place for seniors who can be at risk for social isolation, helping them stay connected to their community. Many centres also incorporate health promotion and healthy living initiatives into their programs. Senior centres are well-positioned to provide a platform for social interaction and can be a great venue for exercise programs as well. For older adults, when you combine exercise with a supportive social environment, the benefits grow exponentially.

According to a study in the Population Health Management Journal, senior-orientated group fitness programs can improve both mental and physical health, and reduce the burden associated with declining mobility. “Research regarding socialization and physical activity for seniors demonstrates the power of combining these two elements in a program,” the Journal piece affirms. The report also noted that physical inactivity is a risk factor for chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

Victoria Lifeline works with senior programs to provide their medical alarm service in over 350 communities in Manitoba and as such, they realized how vital and necessary these organizations are to the well-being of older adults. In recognition of the great work they do, Victoria Lifeline started a health promotion grant program about 10 years ago. The grants are available to senior service providers in Manitoba to engage in healthy living activities. Victoria Lifeline is a not-for-profit service of The Victoria General Hospital Foundation, which is committed to advancing healthcare both in the hospital and the broader community.

Since the inception of the grant program, Victoria Lifeline has been honoured to fund so many wonderful initiatives in communities like Killarney, Altona, St. Laurent, Lundar, Morden, Russell, Souris and LaBroquerie, just to name a few. These have included everything from exercise equipment and fall prevention programs, to a Wii system and corresponding fitness games for residents living in an assisted living facility. Grant money has been used to purchase wheelchairs for a drop-in centre and to cover transportation costs to bring in seniors to the centre from remote areas. The money has helped build raised garden beds so seniors can grow their own vegetables for a congregate meal program. There have even been a few shuffle boards and bocce ball sets over the years!

Vicki Russenholt, an education facilitator with Victoria Lifeline, said their staff and volunteers are thrilled to be able to give back to rural communities and help people age in place. “Working with older adults every day, we know that being physically active is a key component to remaining independent and living at home for as long as possible. We are happy to play a part in getting some of these initiatives off the ground.”

The Winkler Senior Centre was a recipient of this year’s grant to expand their intergenerational walking program. The centre partnered with the Winkler elementary school in May to start an intergenerational walking program and the program was such a success that both the school and the centre wanted it to be an annual event. Winkler Senior Centre executive director Nettie Dyck said they will use the grant money to purchase walking poles to address some of the barriers to physical activity, such as poor balance, joint degeneration and chronic pain.

Walking poles can take some of the load off the lower back, hips and knees. They also help maintain proper posture and balance. The grant money will also fund an indoor walking program in the winter so participants can walk year round, and an educational session by a physiotherapist.

“We loved the idea that this community was committed to helping people of all ages and abilities stay active,” said Vicki. “Our Lifeline staff can’t wait to see pictures of the poles being put to good use!”

For a complete listing of senior centres across the province, please visit the Manitoba Association for Senior Centres website at https://www.manitobaseniorcentres.com/locations/ The website also has a wealth of information on resources for older adults.

Krystal Simpson is a communications officer with Victoria Lifeline, a community service of the Victoria General Hospital Foundation.

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