An Active Retirement: How to Achieve It

When a retired physician and resident at Glenwood Place in Vancouver, Washington suffered a recent stroke, he was told that he would never walk again. Fortunately, the 89-year-old did not listen.

Instead, he met five days a week with the community’s Fitness Coordinator, Garry Renschler, for one-on-one exercise sessions. Six months after his stroke the retired physician has regained an active retirement with walks to the dining room using a walker for stability and participating in group exercise programs.

Exercise as the Key to an Active Retirement

Whether recovering from surgery, dealing with health issues or simply looking to enjoy life, exercise is a key element. Indeed, personal trainer and author, Steve Colwell of Seattle, notes that in a 1999 study by California State at Fullerton, researchers showed that most people suffer a 36 percent decline in physical ability between the ages of 60 and 90. However, the individuals that exercised regularly cut the decline by 50 percent.

“The issue is not trying to stay young. The issue is staying active,” explains Colwell, the 77-year-old author of The No Nonsense Guide to Fitness: The do anywhere, anytime exercise plan that puts old on hold. “The point is to live the happiest, most fulfilled lives we can in the last decade or two of our lives.”

To maintain or develop a level of fitness that enables older adults to enjoy an active retirement, senior fitness experts Colwell, Renschler and Healthways SilverSneakers™ National Instructor Trainer and Presenter, Sharlyn Green of Monroe, Washington, agree on a number of key elements.

For starters, fancy equipment and gleaming dumbbells do not define a successful fitness program. People do. The most successful senior fitness programs incorporate the development of functional abilities (i.e., strength, flexibility, balance to do daily activities), appropriate activities and motivation, as well as a fun, social component.

Active Retirement Through a Variety of Activities

How senior communities enhance an active retirement through fitness programs takes many forms. At Glenwood Place, for example, Renschler and his full-time assistant invite every new resident to take a fitness assessment and questionnaire that covers seven areas including cardio fitness, endurance and flexibility.

Residents are invited to participate in any of a number of daily, 30-minute exercise classes that utilize senior-friendly equipment such as resistance tubing, light dumbbells and chairs as well as daily, aquatics classes. Others gravitate to resident-organized walking groups.

One of the most successful features of this active retirement program is that scores of residents elect to utilize one-on-one training in their rooms or in the fitness center using equipment. Quarterly assessments, celebrations and “most improved” type awards are a regular motivating feature of the program.

“The social component or fun factor of every aspect of the program, from visiting during the workout to residents encouraging each other during group exercise, is what keeps seniors coming back to exercise,” observes Renschler.

Putting the “Act” Into Active Retirement

To promote active retirement living, notes Green, individuals need to see results. As a result, she recommends seniors look for a fitness program that targets building functional capacities. These kinds of exercises promote the strength, endurance and flexibility, for example, to get out of a chair, pull on socks or turn heads when driving.

Green echoes Renschler’s assessment of the power of socialization. “If it isn’t fun, you aren’t going to do it,” says Green. “And what makes a good program fun is that you feel part of a community. The group provides you with the motivation to participate and be accountable.”

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Written by senior care writer Leslee Jaquette.

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