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What’s currently trending in senior wellness engagement.

By 2050, the U.N. estimates for the first time ever the world population will have more people over age 65 than children ages five and younger. People aged over 65 years currently make up around 13% of the U.S. population, but by 2030 that will increase to 18%.

With this increase, the Baby Boomer generation will need more help navigating health and wellness than ever before. Luckily, community recreation centers are perfectly designed to serve this population. 

“At the YMCA, active older adults can experience a strong sense of belonging and a network of friends who provide support for continued health and well-being,” said Sara Robinson-Holmes, the district executive director of the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City. “Through fun, safe and engaging programs, activities and events, active older adults can increase their self-confidence and sense of achievement while building relationships and celebrating the success and milestones of others.”

Across 14 YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City locations, a variety of opportunities are offered for physical fun and social interaction for aging adults, including:

  • Tai Chi – Moving for Better Balance
  • Chair-assisted group fitness classes
  • Water aerobics
  • Book clubs
  • Coffee clubs
  • Pickleball
  • Racquetball
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Workshops and seminars

“At the YMCA we work hard to ensure our programming is for all,” said Robinson-Holmes. “However, we all understand there are physiologic changes of aging that can limit function and general quality of life.”

Combating the limitations of aging is key when offering fitness classes for aging adults. 

According to the CDC, around 10% of deaths among adults ages 40 to 69 and 7.8% of deaths among adults 70 and older were attributed to physical inactivity. Making your programming adaptable and accommodating is one way to encourage aging adults to keep moving. 

“The ideal exercise program in older adults should include aerobic, resistance, flexibility and balance training,” explained Robinson-Holmes. “This can be found in all our classes, even if they are not specific to active older adults. Our exercise professionals can tailor to the abilities, precautions and goals of each person who comes to the YMCA.”

However, exercise is only one trend facilities are seeing when it comes to senior wellness engagement.

Robinson-Holmes said active older adults are now more interested in having a wellness mindset and living a full, active life. She explained at the YMCA of Greater Oklahoma City, they are seeing a big pickup in requests for education and lifelong learning such as technology support, stress reduction techniques and learning new skills in general.

Continuously learning new skills is great for improving memory and overall brain health. In a study published in the Association for Psychological Science Journal, researchers assigned older adults to learn a variety of new skills ranging from digital photography to quilting for three months. They then did memory tests and compared the experimental groups to control groups. The study found only those participants who had learned a new skill showed improvements on the memory tests — even a year later.

One facility that is helping older adults sharpen their minds is the New Orleans JCC through its Mind Matters program. Designed specifically for those concerned about their memory, the JCC offers techniques to improve memory, participate in stimulating discussions and learn from others.

“Throughout the day, we challenge ourselves in a fun and supportive atmosphere,” said Allison Freeman, a co-director of Mind Matters. “Our morning opens by reviewing the homework. Completion is not mandatory but is encouraged. We learn new and different things, perhaps reviewing an article that we then debate or critique. Or we learn about a certain subject — Brexit, giant spiders, coming of age rituals around the world and more — and employ various memory techniques to retain what we have learned.”

Overall, there are five main categories Robinson-Holmes has seen an increase of demand for when it comes to active aging adults: 

  1. Education and lifelong learning. 
  2. Exercise, led by both instructors and technology.
  3. Health education and disease management.
  4. Food and nutrition education and preparation.
  5. Intergenerational programs linking youth and older adults.

According to IHRSA, older members visit fitness centers more often than their younger counterparts. Baby Boomers have been the most active members, visiting an average of 131 times over the course of the year — approximately 11 times per-month. With this in mind, it’s crucial to survey your members and see what programming offering they’d like to see. Catering to their needs will not only result in happier members but healthier ones as well.  

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown is the assistant editor of Community Rec Magazine. She can be reached at taylor@peakemedia.com.

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