Healthy Aging at the Older Americans Center

Case Study | Community Benefits
Healthy Aging at the Older Americans Center

Photos provided by Carie Dick, Older Americans Center Director

FAST FACTS

  • A single fitness class started over 30 years ago has led to a thriving, full-time exercise program focused solely on residents age 55 and up.
  • Financial support from the City of Jasper and Dubois County and the hiring of one exercise professional allows the Older Americans Center to offer a robust program of free fitness classes making exercise accessible to all.
  • Revamping classes by adding names, variety, and new exercise routines keeps classes fresh and stimulating and increases participation.
  • Proper consideration of many aspects of the exercise program creates positive results, such as reaching different fitness levels by modifying class instruction.
  • Utilizing a variety of marketing tools to promote new classes is essential to attracting new participants.
  • Word-of-mouth is one of the center’s best marketing tools.
  • As word spreads about the Older Americans Center offerings, classes become larger, which creates space and parking issues.

The Older Americans Center serves Jasper and Dubois County, Indiana’s residents age fifty-five and up by coordinating activities each weekday, such as games, cards, exercise, meals, and day trips. The center operates as a nonprofit division of the Jasper Park and Recreation Department, and the staff’s goal is to create socially pleasant, healthy, and positive experiences for all.

A single fitness class began not long after the center’s doors were opened in 1976. Thirty years later, under the management of a new center director, a low-impact, walking-style aerobics class and a summertime water aerobics class were added. As the center grew, a greater focus on building out an established fitness class program became possible.

Between early 2018 and into 2019, new exercise classes were added one at a time, and the original fitness class and water aerobics were revamped. Revamping classes included adding names to the classes, adding a variety to the routine of exercises, and regularly adding new exercises to keep the classes fresh and stimulating. Appropriate music spiced up the original fitness class. Additionally, exciting themes and enticing goals help to keep the classes interesting. For example, “dress-up days” on holidays, a food drive at Thanksgiving, and counting steps to “Step across America” offer fun embellishments throughout the year.

Before adding a new exercise class to its schedule, the center considers what is needed and wanted from class participants. Utilizing marketing tools to attract new participants is essential, including through the center’s newsletter, on its social media platforms, and in the local newspaper. One of the center’s best marketing tools turns is word-of-mouth, as new participants regularly report that a friend encouraged their attendance.

To date, each class is developed and planned with evidence-based exercises for the age-specific population. To support strength, flexibility, coordination, and balance at a gentler intensity, the Older Americans Center provides a class dedicated to chair exercises. Water aerobics delivers a gentle on-the-joints workout and promotes heart health. Beginner’s yoga and chair yoga encourage muscular endurance, flexibility, and mental rejuvenation.

Another class offers a self-paced walk at a city park where discussions on topics relevant to aging immediately follow the walk. The center’s Tai Chi classes offer balance and coordination training, which research shows, is great for bodies as we all age.

Finally, a low impact aerobics class provides a workout for the heart and finishes with strength exercises and stretching. During this popular class, many of the exercises reinforce brain and muscle coordination and focus on balance. The nature of the low impact exercises, with provided modifications, allow each participant to work at an intensity level best for their body and ability.

In 2019, the year’s exercise class numbers added up to nearly 8,400 participants. After revamping the original fitness class, participation increased 124% from 2017 to 2019, confirming that revamping classes was a positive step for the Older Americans Center.

Proper consideration and implementation of many features of the exercise program undoubtedly create positive results. Among those that have proven to be beneficial for classes are:

  • Welcoming to each participant and explaining what to expect
  • Reaching different fitness levels by providing modifications
  • Reading the audience and adjusting the class plan when necessary
  • Teaching to different learning styles (explaining via auditory, visual, and kinesthetic cues)
  • Applying variety – adding new exercises, changing the routine, etc.
  • Explaining the “why” and the benefits of the class
  • Giving encouragement
  • Showing appreciation for the participants and offering invitations to other programs
  • Positively interacting with the class during the session and individually before and after
  • Respecting the age of participants, knowing they are full of knowledge and wisdom
  • Promoting socialization
  • Making class fun (examples: dress-up days, class fitness goal, etc.)

With these changes come two big challenges: As word has spread, classes have become larger, which creates space and parking issues. In order to address the space issue, room adjustments are made. In order to overcome parking issues, rearranging other weekly programming allows parking spaces for the participants at exercise class times.

The primary funding sources are the City of Jasper and Dubois County, and the center regularly reports participation numbers to justify funding for all of its programs and staff. With the financial support, the Older Americans Center fitness classes are free offerings with only one exception—the water aerobics costs a few dollars just to cover the cost of entry to the city pool. The City of Jasper and Dubois County classes are financially accessible for all, including for those on a fixed budgets.

Contact information:
Kaci Wehr
Older Americans Center
[email protected] (812) 482-4455

 

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