From popular TV shows such as “The Biggest Loser” to magazines showing you how to “flatten that tummy,” it isn’t hard to miss all the attention people are paying to the advantages of physical fitness. Doctors say the benefits of exercise are enormous, particularly for the elderly who suffer from increased health problems such as diabetes and joint problems and arthritis.
Dr. Scott Wright, director of the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Utah, says exercise and fitness of all levels is key to maintaining a healthy and wholesome lifestyle.
“The fountain of youth is being active, it’s not a secret formula,” Wright said. “It’s being mentally and physically active.”
For many adults, attending fitness classes at a health gym is a popular way to stay in shape as well as socialize with others in a community. But for those with certain health and physical needs, such as the elderly, available programs that accommodate the aging population have been few and far between in the fitness industry.
That is, until an alternative known as EnhanceFitness came onto the scene. It is an exercise program that caters specifically to older adults and is located in senior centers across the United States. It was originally developed in Seattle in the 1990s by a nonprofit agency called Senior Services and became a popular fitness trend for the aging population in the Northwest. Since then, the program has expanded to 28 different states nationwide while promoting and endorsing fitness among those 65 and older.
For the past year and a half, Michaelene Waters, the health educator at the Salt Lake County Aging Services, has pushed for the implementation of EnhanceFitness in local senior centers. In January 2009, she brought the program to the Salt Lake Valley and now two senior centers offer it to participants.
“It’s a new program and it’s different,” Waters said. “People are starting to recognize that it’s a huge market and that it’s really an important thing to focus on.”
According to the National Institute for Aging, exercises focusing on endurance, strength, balance and flexibility are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle for adults over 65. Instructors of EnhanceFitness classes are specially trained to adapt to participants’ needs by utilizing weight training, cardiovascular activities and balancing exercises. By focusing on those three aspects during routines, Waters says she has seen a wide array of benefits and personal gains among participants.
“The biggest advantage people are seeing is their activities of daily living improve,” Waters said. “They can get out of their chairs easier and they can walk a little quicker than they used to.”
Not only are there physical benefits to fitness, but also emotional benefits. According to a recent Gallup poll conducted in May 2009, researchers found those who participate in forms of physical activity at least twice a week experience more happiness and less stress in their daily lives.
Jerry Urlacher, director of the 10th East Senior Center, has noticed the valuable emotional and social characteristics that participants can gain from group fitness. The center features the class three times a week. About 15 people with different levels of fitness and ability attend each session.
“It takes some dedication and I think it makes a difference, it’s a lot of fun,” Urlacher said. “People do it at their own pace and it’s designed to be interactive.”
With the help of grants and Salt Lake County funding, the EnhanceFitness program has expanded to seven additional senior centers. Waters said she hopes to see fitness and physical activity among the aging community become more prominent on a local scale, such as at local recreation centers and gyms. With the benefits and qualities of physical fitness, Waters hopes to see the EnhanceFitness program and other programs targeting the aging population thrive.
“People are being able to age in place, in their homes and have a good quality of life,” Waters said, “and I believe that physical activity enhances that.”