Seniors Fitness Classes Exercise More than Physical Health
WHAT IS IT?
- North Lanark Community Health Centre (CHC) runs a highly popular and successful peer-led fitness program for seniors called Fun & Fitness Exercise Classes for Older Adults and Seniors. Started in 2000, it has enjoyed amazing success. So much so, that the program has expanded from one class per week to nine classes per week in seven different locations; from one volunteer to eight volunteers with four instructors in training; and from ten regular participants to 140 regular participants.
- On the surface, this program looks and feels like a regular exercise and fitness class, but digging deeper reveals great examples of how this program is building community and reducing social isolation. In rural areas like north Lanark – where geographic distances are great and no public transportation system exists, and where many people live on low and/or fixed incomes – no (or low) cost activities offered close to home can make a huge difference in the health and well-being of individuals and in their sense of belonging to a community.
WHERE DOES IT TAKE PLACE?
- North Lanark is a remote rural area in Eastern Ontario, located about an hour west of Ottawa and an hour north of Kingston. There are no cities in Lanark County and the largest town (Mississippi Mills) has a population of a little over 12,000.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
- The program offers free fitness classes for older adults and seniors led by volunteers, who receive rigorous training and certification to become community-based fitness instructors.
- Weekly one-hour classes are run in nine rural communities at municipal halls, community centres and area churches.
- CHC staff are responsible for finding suitable space, resourcing the equipment (mats, exercise balls, free weights, exercise bands) and recruiting, screening, training and supervising the volunteer leaders.
- Leaders are provided with initial and ongoing training that meets the standards set out by the Canadian Centre for Activity and Ageing (CCAA) under their Senior Fitness Instructor Certificate (SFIC) program. This includes a minimum:Participation varies by location - anywhere from seven to 25 people attend each class.
- 40 hours of class time
- 18 hours of apprenticeship teaching with a qualified instructor
- Annual Heart Wise training from the University of Ottawa Heart Institute
- Annual CPR/AED training
- Annual refresher class training
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS/OUTCOMES?
- As a result of participating in the classes, there are self-reported increases in participant’s activities of daily living.
- Participants experience (self-reported and measureable) improvements in strength, balance, flexibility and coordination.
- They also report an improved sense of well-being and an increased understanding of the importance of fitness.
- Additionally, the classes are a meaningful and rewarding experience for the volunteer instructors.
- The program has also created opportunities for social interaction, social support and building friendships; social elements which are viewed as important as increasing opportunities for physical activities.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES?
- Matching up interested community participants with the necessary community resources (appropriate/convenient facilities and willing volunteer instructors) is challenging for program coordinators.
- Transportation in rural areas is a constant challenge; staff must be ever mindful of travel time and costs for volunteer instructors and attempt to minimize travel distances when selecting program locations.
- In essence, the difficulties come down to balancing program demand and growth with the CHC’s limited program resources.
- To overcome challenges, program staff make flexible program decisions based on the availability of two key resources (volunteers and facilities). Programs are occasionally moved to new locations/halls when that will help with program sustainability.
WHAT LESSONS HAVE BEEN LEARNED?
- While there is a standard ‘formula’ for the program, every new site is looked at with fresh eyes with respect to building a program that will work for that hall, that volunteer, that location, and those participants.
- Program staff have learned to go where/when there is momentum.
- Community volunteers who receive on-going and high quality training and support can and do provide an incredible value-added service to the community.
WHAT ARE THE SUCCESS FACTORS?
- Initial development support came from the Ontario Healthy Communities Coalition, one of HC Link’s member organizations.
- Ontario Trillium Foundation grants have supported advanced training and program expansion.
- Honorariums are provided for the community halls for use of the space. This helps alleviate the financial challenges experienced in small municipalities (and in community halls) that threaten the viability of these treasured community assets.
- Community participants and volunteer instructors are the program “champions”. Other communities and Community Health Centres have approached North Lanark CHC for program planning and start-up advice/assistance.