If there is such a thing as a retirement community gym rat, that could be Marion Wilkosz, 97, who moved to Danbury Senior Living in Broadview Heights less than two years ago. Daily visits to the fitness center include lifting 5- and 12-pound weights, working with bands and completing four-minute sprints on the recumbent bike.
But, most of all, Wilkosz is a motivating coach and encouraging “participator,” as he says. He leads his own workout session at Danbury with chair moves and even games like a horseshoes-inspired golf ball toss that he created, modeling a ladder ball contraption he found.
First, a trip to the hardware store. Then, the construction. Imagine three levels of PVC pipe like a ladder, two golf balls attached by a string — and flinging them so they hang on the rungs to score one, two or three points depending on how high.
“When I exercise, I like to have fun and I try to get everyone to participate because I’ve been a participator for a long time,” says Wilkosz, a former math and shop teacher at Max S. Hayes High School. He has enjoyed a full life of staying active, from playing football to muscling through 350 bicep curl reps in a row with 12-pound weights. He’s still using the weights but amped down the reps.
Wilkosz has grown a following of residents who look forward to his version of feel-good fitness, and are now more active because of it. “I’ve watched different friends progress — people who originally started and they have become more active and involved, they’re not just going through the motions,” Wilkosz says. “I usually go up and comment, applaud them for what they’re accomplishing.
His energy and personable nature is contagious.
Aside from Danbury’s fitness instructor, this gives residents an option to join a class one of their friendly neighbors organizes. It inspires those who typically serve a no-thank-you to the group exercise class.
“He’s a great leader, very social and he knows that fitness benefits all,” says Sara Kiousis, the life enrichment director at Danbury Senior Living in Broadview Heights.
She emphasizes the move-it-or-lose-it reality. “As we age, our fitness journey helps us and keeps us strong and healthy,” Kiousis says. “It helps maintain strength, builds confidence and helps older adults stay independent for as long as possible.”
An Active Approach
“It’s not about running a 5K. For some, movement is taking a walk to the mailbox at the end of your driveway,” says Laura Toetz, therapy quality assurance of Sprenger Healthcare, with locations across Northeast Ohio.
No matter what you do, just keep moving. “That could mean walking to the kitchen a few times a day, doing exercises in a chair or by holding on to a counter to keep you steady,” Toetz says. “Even if you are limited by prior injuries or arthritis, becoming immobile exacerbates these issues. It’s important to push through and modify to what is realistic for you.”
As we age, balance and maintaining strength are fitness focal points. Many communities offer balance testing that assesses residents’ capabilities to tailor movements based on their needs. “Stretching is also important for joint mobility and range of motion,” Toetz says.
Not to mention, staying as active as possible can speed recovery after a fall, accident or surgery. “The healing process is much faster,” says Tracey Swisher, life enrichment coordinator at The Normandy Senior Living in Rocky River.
Resident Ted Kibbey can attest to this. After two knee replacements and a couple of back surgeries, he can compare the recovery time before committing to regular exercise. “The first knee replacement, it seemed like it took forever,” he says. “I had rehab exercises, but if you usually just sit in a chair, you won’t heal. The second one, I was up walking the night of the surgery and went home the next day.”
Kibbey focuses on balance, after experiencing several falls. “I don’t push myself as much as I used to, but I know I have to do something every day.” That might include playing nine holes of golf or walking a path on the 30-acre campus with its Metroparks feel. There’s also a putting green and gardens on site.
His Normandy neighbor, Trudy Bell, makes walking the winding trail a daily habit. One lap is a quarter mile, and she aims for three to four circuits daily. In the winter, she can always walk inside. Bell also participates in activities like cornhole and Scrabble, acknowledging that mental fitness is equally important. She still spends about four hours a day working as a freelance writer and historian.
Different strokes for different folks. Modification allows us to move through the years as the pace of life slows, yet the need to stay active to maintain a healthy lifestyle elevates.
“We can go from seated jogging in a chair to simply lifting up the feet and kicking their feet out for a second,” Kiousis describes. “It’s as much or as little as residents can do.”
Kiousis demonstrates a chair jumping jack, which actually does an effective job of testing balance, raising the heart rate and building strength. Plus, there’s the mental aspect of coordinating arms and legs.
Squeezing a stress ball also counts, Kiousis adds.
“We adapt for every resident because every person is different,” she says.
Try Something Different
When working out feels like a drag — and it does at every age, including Little League — think creatively. Ohio Living Breckenridge Village offers a Movement to Music class that’s essentially a choreographed dance party. A group of residents organizes chair volleyball matches. “They set it up, get their friends there, play music and have a great time,” Layman relates.
The community uses Rendever virtual reality headsets. “There is a bubble pop game, and you gain mobility by looking at the bubbles and popping them, plus it fosters camaraderie because they compete with each other,” Layman says.
All told, there are nearly 30 weekly classes along with home visits for Ohio Living Breckenridge Village residents who prefer one-on-one sessions. Or members can tune in to the community’s TV channel and participate in pre-recorded fitness classes.
Functional movement classes involve “how to get up off the floor,” Layman says, adding that this isn’t necessarily addressing falls. When practicing exercise moves on the ground, the way we stand up afterward changes with age.
At Sprenger Healthcare, some physical therapists are certified to teach the Total Parkinson’s class, which is open to family members and the community. “It is geared toward slowing the progression of Parkinson’s by keeping people moving and maintaining independence through various techniques,” Toetz explains. The class focuses on balance, posture, walking, multitasking and brain exercises, along with core and body strengthening.
Even laughing is a great workout. In fact, it could be more beneficial than bench-pressing and a lot more fun. Layman is a Certified Laughter Leader — it’s a thing, through the Columbus-based World Laughter Tour. “Laughter is a physical act,” she attests. “You are getting an abdominal workout, it reduces blood pressure and changes your mood.”
At Ohio Living Breckenridge Village, she organized the BV Joy Crew, and the sessions start with assembling in a circle and a single prompt from Layman, “Ha!”
Then the room repeats, “Ha, ha!”
And shortly after, belly rolls erupt with smiles and unstoppable giggling and guffawing.
“Laughter for no reason at all is very important,” Layman says. “It’s an abstract concept, but residents have so much fun with it. These are literally called laughter exercises.”
The mind-body connection runs deep.
“We really look at the full wellness picture,” Layman relates.
Circling back to making all the right moves for life, she shares advice from a resident who turned 107 at Ohio Living Breckenridge Village: “Keep moving, is how you live longer.”
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