The positive powers of play

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

It wasn't a bad winter, as winters go, here in the Midwest. Still, it's nice to be returning to the time of year when grass is visible every day and coats are optional. I'll be heading outdoors for numerous hikes and bicycle rides.

One senior living community has found a new way to take advantage of the good weather while improving the physical and mental health of residents. Twice a week, you'll find many who live at The Terraces of Phoenix, a continuing care retirement community managed by American Baptist Homes of the West, outside exercising and playing games with the community's fitness instructors.

Earlier this year, the CCRC began offering an eight-week “Power and Mobility” series of classes to independent living residents at a nearby park. Lesson plans take advantage of the uneven surface of the grass to improve the balancing abilities of residents, who already have completed a similar 12-week class indoors. In addition to walking drills and balancing exercises, the sessions include games such as kickball, tee-ball, volleyball, croquet and horseshoes.

“For tee-ball, the residents will hit the ball off the tee, and they'll have to run or jog or walk to the base, but then the residents in the field have to bend down and pick up the ball, which is working on their weight shift in the grass and their center of gravity,” Kayla Hassler, the community's fitness coordinator, told me. “So we hit a lot of balance out there, and the residents just love it. They love spending time outside and being out in nature.”

Staff members enjoy being outside, too, Hassler added. “It's good for both of our souls,” she said.

About 15 independent living residents have signed up for the balance class (additional residents take part in other fitness activities), which is offered at no additional charge, and a comparable number of assisted living residents participate in the “Power and Mobility” class in the courtyard of their building. The CCRC's fitness instructors invite additional potential class-takers whom they identify via incident reports as having fallen.

In addition to the physical benefits of the physical activity — improved balance and overall mobility as well as a reduced likelihood of falling — residents benefit mentally from being outdoors, Hassler said, and some of the drills conjure memories from high school or college for residents.

“We throw out an agility ladder, a ladder on the ground, and the residents have to do walking drills through it,” Hassler said. “A lot of that is based on old football drills. So a lot of the men start running and looking like they're playing football again, or they'll start saying sports terminology that makes them reminisce on their old athletic days. It's really neat to see.”

Unlike my locale, where we're just starting to enjoy warmer weather, the desert heat soon will arrive in Phoenix, and The Terraces will be moving its classes back indoors for several months, Hassler said. Instructors will welcome new residents whose balancing skills aren't as advanced as those who have taken part in the outdoor sessions and will teach existing participants modifications to basic moves that match their skill levels.

“As we age, we stop doing what we used to do when we were 25 or 14 or 6. We're not running and moving our bodies like we used to,” Hassler said. “The phrase, ‘If you don't move it, you lose it,' is true. So we try to get them to move it in all different kinds of ways.”

How does your community take advantage of nice weather and help residents stay fit?

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.


Terraces of Phoenix independent living residents perform football-style drills in the park. Practicing changing direction helps prevent falls. Pictured, front: Jack Soloman (gray shirt), John Dunlop (blue shirt) and Dave Horton (suspenders). In back: Bob Sierk (green shirt), Tony Ashton (gray shirt, shorts), and, far right: Norma Olson (green jacket) and Peggy Tetrault (blue vest over pink shirt).

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