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Your Health: Blowing up stereotypes about seniors and fitness

Most people would consider a wheelchair the end of exercise. But as Monday morning water aerobics at the Eskaton Village let out, one berobed woman zipped away from the pool in her powerchair.

“My clients are the best, because they’re my role models,” said instructor Lynne Schweissenger, ponytail still dripping from the swim. “They’re religious about coming.”

Staff at the Grass Valley retirement community is trying to get even more people to take the plunge as part of Faces of Fitness, a new initiative kicked off last week that encourages residents to set and achieve health goals.



Faces is a pilot program expected to be extended to all 13 facilities in California run by Carmichael-based Eskaton, which provides independent and assisted living arrangements.

The goal is to help people make the most out of life after 55. For some, that may mean trying out a new exercise class. For others, it’s lifting weights to guard against broken bones.




“We want to absolutely blow up the stereotypes,” said Eskaton Grass Valley administrator Mary Eaton-Campbell. “We’re transforming the aging experience.”

It’s not always easy to exercise, especially with a chronic health condition.

Joe Vielbig, who was toweling off after water aerobics, said every day is a battle thanks to two shoulder replacements and a knee replacement. But the 81-year-old gets extra prodding from his wife, Peg.

“She tells me what to do, when to do it and how to do it,” Vielbig joked. He’s been a devotee of water aerobics for 28 years.

Beyond the rehabilitation factor, fitness starts friendship, and vice versa.

Carolyn Harvey moved to Eskaton in August 2009.

“What better way to meet new people than to try new things,” Harvey said. So she experimented with different classes, finally settling on Fitness with Gayle. What looked like an easy class – some attendees came in with walkers – turned out to be a rigorous, thrice-weekly workout.

She supplements that strength and balance training by walking laps daily – an exercise she’s been doing for her entire life – and the healthy, light eating taught by her mother, who was “the original health food addict,” she said.

“The more active you are, the younger you stay,” Harvey said.

Staff are even joining in, bringing a gym bag to work and changing out of business suits at midday.

“They’re getting to know (residents) in a new way – by sweating with them,” said Eskaton marketing director Rhonda Herrin.

In addition to exercise goals, which will be posted along with photos on a wall of the community’s lodge, the kitchen staff is introducing a new menu of heart-healthy choices.

Instead of sweet-and-sour pork, diners can choose snapper with tomatoes and capers, for example. Those low-cholesterol, low-sodium entrees came from an American Heart Association cookbook.

But Faces of Fitness doesn’t stop with physical goals.

Brain games are meant to keep the mind sharp, and the staff is promoting yoga and meditation to touch the spirit.

People who settle in Nevada County have high expectations for a retirement community, Campbell said. The activities in place at Eskaton go beyond a basic exercise program, and that better meets the diverse needs and interests of today’s senior adult.

“Who you are at 80 is who you were at 25 and who you were at 40,” Campbell said. “Just because you’re 80 doesn’t mean those dreams go away.”

Some continue learning through Sierra College classes – including courses offered at the village. The Eskaton bus takes residents to theater productions in town.

The cues for Eskaton’s programming are increasingly coming from residents – like one woman who continues riding her stationary bike twice a day – at age 101.

“Eighty is young. People are living longer,” Campbell said. “There really are no boundaries.”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail mrindels@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4247.


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