Generation Recreation

Catering Wellness & Fitness to Active Agers, Teens and More

Whether your goal is to get actively aging adults more, well, active, or you want to improve fitness among children and teens, it can be useful to target fitness and wellness programming toward specific age groups. From fitness programs that help seniors stay flexible and strong to wellness programs that aim to convince your younger patrons to eat healthy and move more for their own benefit, there's a wealth of opportunities out there to make a difference

And making that difference is an important mission.

Since 1980, obesity rates have more than doubled for adults, according to the Trust for America's Health. And childhood obesity rates have more than tripled. In 2011-12, 34.9 percent of adults were obese, and 68.6 percent were either overweight or obese. Around 17 percent of children and teens were obese from 2011 to 2012, and 31.8 percent were either overweight or obese.

At the same time, life expectancy has steadily increased. In 1980, the average American lived to be 73.7 years old. In 2013, it was 78.8. But a longer life doesn't necessarily mean a better life if you're plagued with the kinds of chronic illness that come part and parcel with our expanding waistlines.

Recreation, sports and fitness facilities are among the soldiers on the front lines of the ongoing battle of the bulge. Here's some useful information to help as you target your fitness programs toward those who need them most.

Aging & Exercise

The benefits of exercise to every part of our bodies is well documented. Exercise can keep you alive and active longer, and more and more studies are showing that exercise has a significant positive impact on the brain, especially for older adults. A recent study from the University of Illinois in Urbana argues that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness in ages 59 to 80 contribute to higher levels of reason and problem solving.

Among its top fitness trends for 2016, the American College of Sports Medicine called out fitness programs for older adults.

"As the baby boom generation ages into retirement, some of these people have more discretionary money than their younger counterparts," the ACSM reported in a press release. "Therefore, many health and fitness professionals are taking the time to create age-appropriate fitness programs to keep older adults healthy and active."

Highly active older adults can get involved in more rigorous programs like strength training and team sports, but even more frail elderly can get involved in improving their fitness.

The ACSM advises facilities to take advantage of underutilized times of the day (such as between 9 and 11 am and 2 and 4 pm) to reach this demographic with programming designed specifically for their needs. Programs that provide balance training and functional fitness will be particularly popular for older groups, but even simplistic programming like a walking club can have an impact, providing not only a way to move more, but also a social outlet.

In 2014, the International Council on Active Aging recognized several programs for its Innovators Achievement Awards, which honor excellence and creativity in older-adult wellness. Some of the trends ICAA noted among the submission in 2014 included:

  • More activities and programs that were developed and delivered with or by older adults.
  • Integration of multiple dimensions of wellness.
  • Social interaction, both among older adults and their families, as well as children, groups and others in the greater community.
  • Group development and execution of arts programs
  • Participation by staff members and volunteers who are not formally part of the "wellness" function.

The ICAA's Innovators Awards recognize those who are leading the way, setting new standards and making a difference in the lives of older adults, with a focus on programs and concepts that advance active aging. Winners in 2014 included:

  • Go BLUE: Live STRONGER at Inverness Village in Tulsa, Okla.: Inspired by "The Blue Zones" by Dan Buettner and customized to the resident population of a life care retirement community, this campaign focused on integrating nine common denominators of aging well into people's lives over a semester, including through purposeful activities within multiple wellness dimensions. The success of the campaign led to requests for additional semesters.
  • Brain Waves at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg, Md.: This continuing care retirement community's eight-week course combined learning and experiential activities to explore the brain, how it functions and how to maximize brain health with age. Participants took part in a final project that challenged them to research a new topic or learn a new skill, then make a formal presentation to the class.
  • ECG Good Samaritan Outreach Program at Atria El Camino Gardens in Carmichael, Calif.: This volunteer program aimed to support residents of the independent seniors housing and assisted living community in making a difference. People with different skills and functional abilities participate by providing visits, meals and friendships to older adults in the community at large, preparing box lunches for homeless individuals, and crocheting, knitting or sewing items for people in the hospital.
  • Walking Bingo at Peoples Health in Metairie, La.: A Medicare Advantage organization, Peoples Health provides healthcare services and supports healthy aging. To motivate people to get active, a company wellness coordinator and a Baton Rouge Recreation and Parks employee created Walking Bingo. Players walk at a set pace, passing stations around an indoor track to learn letter/number combinations and complete bingo cards. It's a chance to enjoy a game and socialize while moving.
  • Attitude of Gratitude Program at Oak Harbor in Vero Beach, Fla.: This two-month program encouraged residents of the senior living community to be more grateful for the smallest experiences of daily life. Activities incorporated a positive approach, such as jokes and laughter during group exercise. Among the outcomes, participants were motivated to "pay it forward," helping neighbors and performing small services for strangers.

The winning programs showcase the great variety of approaches to holistic wellness. In other words, it's not only about physical fitness, but also emotional and cognitive health.

Catch Them Young

While reaching out to the active aging population with programs that will improve their overall wellness is important, it's not the only way to make a dent in dire numbers around obesity and overweight. If you truly want to have an impact, according to the Trust for America's Health, prevention among children is crucial.

"It's easier and more effective to prevent overweight and obesity in children by helping every child maintain a healthy weight than it is to reverse trends later," the organization reports. "The biggest dividends are gained by starting in early childhood, promoting good nutrition and physical activity so children enter kindergarten at a healthy weight."

And, once again, physical health isn't the only kind of health you can affect. According to the National Institutes of Health, there is a connection between physical fitness and IQ, with higher IQs connected to physical fitness at age 18. The researchers also showed that fitness predicts greater educational and professional achievements later in life.

Various organizations are taking on the mission of engaging kids and teens in wellness activities. SHAPE America's "50 Million Strong by 2029" initiative was kicked off recently in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The initiative aims to ensure that America's students develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to enjoy healthy, meaningful physical activity.

"We understand the importance of keeping our kids healthy and physical active," said Alberto M. Carvalho, Miami-Dade County superintendent. "We have developed a variety of choices for all of our students to stay active, and we are thrilled about the new initiative promoting similar programs across the nation."

In Miami-Dade, 100 percent of schools are enrolled in First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Active Schools initiative. The schools' physical education programs have been recognized by Designed to Move and UNESCO. The Anchors Away and I Can Do It/You Can Do It adapted physical education programs have been recognized by First Lady Michelle Obama. And, every student in physical education class participates in individual fitness assessments through the Presidential Youth Fitness Program. Preschoolers even get involved, with an introduction to the joys of physical activity by professionally trained early childhood staff.

"Increasing physical activity for kids before, during and after school is fundamental to student success," said Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. "We know that Active Kids Do Better. They perform better on tests, show increased focus, attend school more often, and demonstrate a higher level of interpersonal skills and confidence."

SHAPE America has developed a website centered around the 50 Million Strong theme that features resources for teachers, administrators, professors, future professionals and parents, including:

  • Information needed to develop a comprehensive school physical activity program.
  • A Physical Education Program Checklist.
  • Guidance documents on The Essential Components of Physical Education and Appropriate Practices in School-Based Health Education.
  • Grade-level activity calendars.
  • Free podcasts on health and physical education topics.
  • Webinars with innovative ideas and tried-and-true teaching strategies.

"Research shows that today's youth are more sedentary than ever, and that physical inactivity is the cause of many health problems," said SHAPE America President Stephen Jefferies of Central Washington University. "SHAPE America is committed to providing health and physical education teachers with the resources they need to teach young people about the benefits of living a physically active and healthy life."

The YMCA of the USA's MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition…Do It!) program for 7- to 13-year-olds is another example of how organizations are tackling the issue of childhood obesity.

"As one of the largest youth-serving organizations in the country and a leading community-based network committed to improving the nation's health, the Y is determined to play a significant role in reducing childhood obesity," said Kevin Washington, president and CEO of YMCA of the USA, in a press release. "The MEND program will strengthen our efforts to help children reach a healthy weight, which will not only improve individual health, but also the overall health of our communities."

Y-USA selected MEND after soliciting input from national childhood obesity experts to help identify a proven program that could be implemented on a national scale. MEND has shown statistically significant reductions in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, sedentary activities and improvements in physical activity. The program, which typically is made up of groups of eight to 15 children and their adults, creates a safe, fun and active environment for children and their families to explore and adopt proven methods to living a healthier lifestyle. Most sessions are two hours in length, with the first hour delivered in a classroom setting and the second hour focusing on physical activity.

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