Integrating exercise into senior living residents’ wellness regimens is nothing new, but providers are finding new ways to maintain resident health and drive better health outcomes through wellness.
At the center of many of those efforts are goals that residents set themselves, according to Jolene Moore, director of operations at Pathway to Living
“There’s a difference for wellness in each person,” Moore said during a panel discussion at the Senior Housing News DISHED/WELLNESS event in Orlando. “The trend is…finding out what resident goals are and inspiring them, empowering them to help them own their health journey.”,”
Instead of only walking on treadmills or pedaling on stationary bikes, senior living residents in 2022 are also playing corn hole, using golf simulators and competing in pickleball matches to stay active. And that is by design as many senior living operators usher in new resident-centric fitness models.
Texas-based Buckner Retirement Services, part of Buckner International, is embracing technology to promote health and wellness through fitness. The operator’s communities include the award-winning Ventana by Buckner CCRC in Dallas, which is collaborating with fitness pioneer Cooper Aerobics to keep residents well, among other efforts.
Now, residents are arriving at Buckner’s Ventana community with an average age in the mid-70s, which Director of Operations Chuck Childress called a “pretty extraordinary” achievement. Those residents are also much more interested in their health and wellness than previous generations — so much so that Childress believes they will usher in transformational change with regard to senior living fitness and wellness.
“I see them as the bellwether of what’s to come as the new generation begins to pass through our communities,” he said during the DISHED/WELLNESS panel. “There really is a focus on prevention, and residents are very interested in finding ways to prevent their own health decline.”
A new chapter for fitness and food
It’s no secret the incoming generation of senior living residents are bringing with them new desires and preferences, with wellness and fitness a higher priority than those who came before them.
That is partly why Buckner forged its flagship fitness program at Ventana with Cooper Aerobics, which has helped pioneer fitness trends over the last 50 years. Under the partnership, Cooper provides two, full-time fitness staff to provide personal training for residents. The organization also aids with wellness services.
Childress said the partnership was a “no-brainer,” given that both organizations prioritize health and wellness.
“It was just a natural partnership for us to connect with them, and to bring them on board to run our fitness and wellness program,” he said.
Ventana residents are not only keen on fitness, they also are interested in nutrition and the relationship between food, health and wellness, Childress added. On the culinary side, Buckner partners with food service management company Thomas Cuisine as well as dieticians from Cooper who provide one-on-one food coaching.
The company also works with Dallas-based celebrity chef and restaurateur Stephan Pyles, who conceptualized the community’s dining spaces.
“We’ve done things like having cooking demonstrations where the residents leave with a small basket of groceries, that they will take back to their home to use to prepare that dish that they saw that day,” Childress said. “This created a lot of interest.”
Buckner also designs its fitness areas specifically to support resident health, according to Childress. He added developers and operators must work together to have “purposeful strategic planning” behind the design of fitness spaces.
“I think really being intentional about what we’re doing as we’re building new, or as we’re retrofitting existing communities with fitness spaces—design it well for the future of the seniors,” Childress said.
Of course, fitness and resident health goes beyond food and exercise classes, noted Moore. Residents want a focus on “whole-person wellness, not just fitness,” she said.
“I think the trends are going to be what are the rest of those components- – the mind, the body, the spirit and the engagement of our residents,” Moore said. “The trend is to more educated staff doing really quality, meaningful programming.”
Making fitness accessible
Fitness goals are different for every resident. Although some residents seek to boost their golf game or run a better mile, others simply want to be mobile enough to ride the bus, or walk a grandchild down the aisle at a wedding. .
Giving residents the ability to set their own fitness goals helps them buy into their own health. But to set and benchmark goals, senior living operators need data, according to Moore. That’s where technology comes in.
“People are going to want and demand technology-inspired fitness programming,” Moore said. The whole-person wellness program is the future, not just the fitness component.”
Cooper wields a proprietary system that gathers biometric data to use in health assessments, from strength training to gait speed.
“Integration is so important to be able to take all this data that we have and use that to help our residents. If we can’t use it to help the senior resident then it’s all lost.”
Buckner also uses Wexer’s virtual fitness offering. which gives residents access to hundreds of programs they can customize to their own fitness and comfort level.
In the near future, Childress said the Cooper Institute plans to integrate health coaching into resident wellness programming, with medical directors and care staff helping to educate residents on how and why their health is important.
Pathway currently has a partnership with a value-based provider that offers a health coach, which has directly resulted in positive outcomes for residents, Moore said. Having a health coach has helped care staff pick up on resident health issues and allows them to be proactive.
“It really offers us the ability to help our residents live longer and better in-place,” Moore added.
At the center of both Buckner’s and Pathway’s fitness programs is accessibility. After all, residents can’t take charge of their own wellness if the activities they must perform are too hard or too uninteresting.
Learning about residents and what inspires them could help spark a fitness journey for a resident who may not be inclined to typical exercise.For example, Moore has found a lot of success getting residents to play the yard game corn hole. The goal is to get residents involved in activities that excite and engage them, and to “know them where they are,” Moore said.
“We think they need fitness less and less, when it’s exactly the opposite:. They need fitness more and more,” she said.“[But this is] not fitness, it’s fun and getting them moving.”
For Buckner residents living with Alzheimer’s disease or other kinds of dementia, the operator has found success with music therapy, dancing, chair exercises and easy aerobics.
In the past, Moore has promoted a range of sports for memory care residents, such as basketball, golf and walking. Healthy competition can help motivate residents, too.
“The bottom line is: We need to empower our residents. We need to teach them that they can own their house,” Moore said. “They can affect how they’re going to live the rest of their life.”