The following blog was written by Kim Bradeen, Resident Services Director at Country Meadows Retirement Community in Hershey, PA. Her blog, Walking to Stay Fit, is inspired by her passion for providing the best care for residents and her love of fitness. We hope Kim’s blog inspires you to get your residents up and moving!

Exercise and movement cannot be underestimated. According to Newton’s Law of Inertia, “a body in motion will remain in motion unless it is acted upon by force.” As a part-time fitness instructor (and part-time resident services director), I know firsthand that when our residents are moving and staying active, their quality of life is better than residents who are not as mobile. At our facility, we offer a wide array of fitness classes, ranging from strength and endurance to flexibility and mind-body (e.g. Tai chi and yoga). All of these classes and activities ensure that our residents are getting a full menu when it comes to physical fitness.

However, the one activity that we offer that I feel is extremely valuable is our walking program. Walking requires no equipment and no expertise. All you need is a solid pair of shoes and a safe, paved path. You need to decide if you want to allow all levels of walkers and how you can safely monitor your group. For safety, I suggest having at least two co-workers for groups of five or more. You want to be able to see everyone and be available to assist if needed. Again, it depends on the abilities of your residents.

There are many health benefits of walking. These include:

  • Burning calories
  • Lowering blood sugar
  • Relieving joint pain
  • Enhancing moods
  • Strengthening hearts

However, one of my favorite benefits is the social aspect, which is often overlooked. Creating a welcoming, friendly environment for your residents will ensure that your walking club feels like a family, which helps encourage consistent attendance.

We are fortunate to have a walking path around our campus for our residents to enjoy. In the winter months, we come inside and walk our hallways. The important part is that we are consistent and always shoot for half an hour. To break up the monotony of the long winter months, we take field trips to the local mall, parks, or a local sports facility that hosts Senior Days. My residents always look forward to these special events. We also try to engage with other departments like Community Life and combine our walks with other events, like bird watching or scavenger hunts.

There are also different challenges that you can offer to your residents that might motivate them. These include:

  • Step totals
  • Distances
  • The number of times a senior walks
  • The use of walking poles
  • Walks that include meditation
  • Partner walks
  • Flower walks

I have also had luck with door decoration scavenger hunts, where I send residents out with a partner and they walk around the building looking for certain decorations. I give them a sheet to fill out, and they are able to do the activity on their own. I post articles for them to read and encourage them to recruit other residents into the group.

The key is to know your residents and be prepared to try different events to keep them interested. I will occasionally offer special things to keep fitness fresh and fun. I continue to have luck with a personal approach by welcoming everyone. Take a genuine interest in your residents, speak to them individually, and let them know they were missed if they don’t attend. I don’t always have high participation numbers, but that’s okay. I know the residents that do choose to participate are enjoying the opportunity for a valuable experience, both physically and emotionally.

Looking for more information on keeping seniors active at your community? Check out our Finding Fitness DVD.