Carol Siddons walks at least eight miles a day and works out weekly in the gym at Abbey Delray South, a Lifespace community in Delray Beach, Florida. She also works every day in her garden.
Yet even Siddons put on a few pounds over the holiday season, as many people do.
“I like cookies,” confesses Siddons. “I baked cookies for a couple of my neighbors, and of course I kept a couple for myself.”
Each winter, Abbey Delray South’s fitness director, Mike Schmidt, holds a 10-week program to help residents like Siddons focus on their health and stay in shape. In January alone, Siddons lost 10 pounds with Schmidt’s help.
The program is one of many wellness initiatives offered at Lifespace Communities to encourage successful aging. Across its campuses, Lifespace embraces the Masterpiece Living program, which focuses not just on physical health but also on spiritual, intellectual and mental well-being. Masterpiece Living is based on a landmark MacArthur Foundation study that found that people who age successfully have strong social connections and are physically active, intellectually stimulated and spiritually engaged.
Schmidt starts the new year by dividing residents into groups and sending a letter each week revealing the weight loss, nutrition and exercise goals for each group.
“Mike really encourages people to lose weight,” Siddons says. “And if you are really competitive, you don’t want to let your group down.”
Each year, between 40 and 50 residents sign up for the program, Schmidt says.
“The teams have meals together and encourage each other,” Schmidt says. “Somebody might say, ‘Let’s skip dessert tonight. Let’s not have any bread today.’”
Schmidt focuses on small, reachable goals rather than drastic diet plans.
“On the first week, I give them a journal asking them to record everything they eat and drink, and I give them a list of four fruits and vegetables that would be good for them,” he says. “I give them a nutrition goal every week.”
He holds weekly meetings with residents to measure their progress. Because wellness is a year-round commitment at Lifespace, Schmidt also talks to residents about the importance of getting enough sleep and staying hydrated. He discusses the value of strength training and aerobic exercise.
Another Lifespace community, Friendship Village of Bloomington in Minnesota, launched a similar Winter Fit campaign, a three-month challenge to encourage team members and residents to add at least one more physical movement to their current routines.
Exercising in the winter helps strengthen the immune system, giving residents greater resistance to common threats such as the flu, pneumonia and shingles, says Julie Schuster, a fitness trainer at Friendship Village. Physical strength helps prevent falls on icy sidewalks and makes it easier for residents to return to activities such as walking, golfing and biking when spring arrives.
“Exercise also helps residents maintain a positive mood during the dark, cold days when we are inside more,” Schuster says.
After having surgery last year, Friendship Village resident Pat Wood cut back on her exercise but took the Winter Fit challenge as an opportunity to get back in shape.
“I was working on my schedule for February and discovered that I had 13 classes in one week, including swimming and other exercise,” Wood says.
In the spring and summer, she gardens and walks every day, but those options aren’t available during Minnesota’s long winters.
“You don’t just sit around and watch television and read a book in the winter,” Wood says. “I like to be active. And I feel so much better when I am.”
The fitness programs are just one part of a continuous yearlong effort to promote wellness, a key component of the Masterpiece Living concept endorsed by Lifespace, says Schmidt. Abbey Delray South, for example, offers 28 fitness classes a week for residents ranging from strength and balance training to yoga and tai chi.
“We’re really trying to get residents who haven’t been active and haven’t been out of their apartments to come to the classes,” Schmidt says. “I always say living here is like living on a cruise ship on land. The wellness opportunities are endless.”
Ann Walsh, senior vice president of operations, says engagement is key to Lifespace’s commitment to wellness.
“Throughout our communities we offer countless opportunities for residents to grow,” Walsh says. “Successful aging is our top priority, which is why we partner with initiatives like Masterpiece Living. Our goal is to ensure all of our residents enjoy rich, purposeful and fulfilling lives as members of our communities.”
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