Playing For Your Health

By Judee Fong

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Playing is a holistic approach to illness prevention. In most seniors' residences, it is an entertaining way of staying active, healthy and mobile.

The thought of exercising makes many people cringe. Rob Huppee, Wellness and Vitality Manager of Amica Lifestyle, says the key to avoiding this perception is to keep things fun and light.

"Everyone exercises at their own comfort level - whether it's strength conditioning (MPower), aquafit or tai chi - classes are always in a supervised setting, often turning into a social event."

Somerset House residents Earl and Dorothy Kimmerly reap the benefits of staying active. Married for 63 years, the Kimmerlys say there's too much to do. Daily morning swims, carpet bowling, chair exercises (Dorothy), MPower circuit (Earl), the challenging complexities of Mexican dominoes and social outings fill their monthly calendar.

"We've been here a year and still haven't done everything," say the busy couple.

Bubbling with energy, Margaret Rippin stays dynamic with the walking group, the MPower workouts, the Somerset Follies, bingo and Mexican dominoes. She admits her list keeps growing.

"I'm 86 years old, feeling healthy and having the time of my life!" says Margaret.

Nordic Pole Walking is the latest addition to Amica's fitness options. With special benefits for older adults, it works 90 per cent of the body's muscles, burning more calories while improving balance and mobility.

"If you can walk, you can pole walk," says Rob.

Holistic recreation affects the mind, as well as the body. Many seniors' residences include numerous activities to challenge the intellect. Board games, card games, puzzles and other activities that use the brain cells are not just entertainment pastimes, but fun exercises for the mind.

The "Talespinners" at John Alfred Manor (JAM) are in top form. Once a week, senior storytellers share stories, like their childhood memories and life in another era.

"It's listening to history told by someone who had been there!" says Chelsea Neumann, JAM's Recreation Therapist. Storytelling is a memory exercise, often generating spirited audience response.

The "Hearts with Hands" knitting group at John Alfred Manor keep their fingers nimble by busily knitting tiny hats for premature babies, plus blankets and mittens for the homeless. Other JAM activities includes music, singing, tai chi, a walking group, bridge/cribbage, bingo, bus trips and social events, all carefully planned to encourage maximum resident participation.

Amie Aniban, Recreation Director for The Victorian at McKenzie, has a busy schedule for her seniors: bowling, bean-bag toss and billiards hone hand-to-eye co-ordination; a volunteer resident teaches a form of tai chi; an exercise room has a few machines for fitness buffs, while gentler chair exercises keep others agile. Bridge, tile rummy and poker keep the residents' brain cells stimulated along with bingo, books and music.

Four years ago, Ken and Evelyn Martin moved from their condominium to The Victorian at McKenzie. Utilizing his writing, editing and organizational skills, Ken produces the monthly Victorian Views newsletter for residents.

"We love the activity, the food and the whole atmosphere," says Ken cheerfully. "There's always something interesting going on."

Betty Tupper, a neighbour, echoes Ken's enthusiasm.

"I enjoy being active and social. For instance, the walking club goes to different locations such as UVic, the Gorge and even Mattick's Farm. If the weather is terrible, we become mall-walkers."

Newly opened senior residences such as Legion Manor, The Peninsula and Cridge Village Seniors Centre, plus established senior complexes such as The Wellesley and Berwick House, all have activity programs geared to the abilities of their residents.

Certified recreation therapists and recreation personnel plan activity programs that are fun and adaptable, motivating residents to remain active in a pastime they love or learning a new one. Over time, and with a healthy diet, continued activity lowers blood pressure, maintains weight control, increases mobility, reduces stress, builds self-esteem and increases confidence.

For seniors living alone, diabetes, heart disease and joint problems such as arthritis initiate the end of many of their physical activities. Today, seniors' residences understand that activity leads to overall wellness and longevity, and health problems mean an adjustment, not an end, to enjoying favourite forms of recreation.

Playtime is good for you!

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