Exercise Sparks New Life in Aging Adults

For members at the East Brunswick Senior Center, exercise is the high point of their day.

 

 

 

 

Photo: Gottlieb (l) and Timper (r) practice strength training exercise at the East Brunswick Senior Center with Kaplowitz.

For members at the East Brunswick Senior Center, exercise is the high point of their day. What gets them most excited? Line dancing.

“I even dance around the house. When I’m vacuuming or cooking, I just stop and dance around and stretch. I like to be flexible,” said Gottlieb, a former teacher who said her only regular exercise before retirement was running after students.

Since 2002, the friends have kept moving through programs designed by Rutgers’ Center for Exercising and Aging, in which students lead seniors in activities ranging from strength training to aerobics. “If I had not been exercising all these years, I don’t think I’d be here or doing as great as I am,” said Timper.

Founded By Personal Trainer

Susan Kaplowitz, a teaching professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers’ School of Arts and Sciences, founded the center, which celebrates 15 years this year. As a personal trainer specializing in older adults, Kaplowitz realized that her students — primarily exercise science majors — would benefit from a course that taught them the importance of exercise in the aging population.

“I wanted to provide a course that would prepare them for careers that involved geriatrics,” she said. “Plus, I thought it would be a great way to apply our knowledge to benefit the local community.”

Kaplowitz launched the program with the participation of her own clients as she reached out to local senior centers and assisted living facilities, such as the East Brunswick Senior Center and Monroe Village in Monroe Township. The organizations partner with the program by allowing students to work with their members on-site or sending seniors to gyms on the Cook/Douglass campus for exercise classes throughout the year.

Cardiovascular Exercise Essential

“Seniors visit centers mainly to socialize. It’s an important part of their day,” Kaplowitz said. “The program allows them to socialize and build their self-confidence as they see their strength improve. Many of our participants have not exercised before, especially in strength training.”

Exercise helps older adults maintain daily functions, Kaplowitz said. “The most important exercises focus on the lower body to improve balance since seniors are prone to falls,” she said. “Cardiovascular exercise is also essential. As people age, muscle mass decreases and body fat composition increases, which can lead to conditions like diabetes. Cardio can improve body composition and endurance and allow seniors to perform daily tasks without losing breath.”

Strength training improves flexibility; when seniors keep moving, their joints stay mobile, helping to prevent osteoarthritis and assisting them in activities like moving their head easier when driving.

“I’ve seen many 80-year-olds who are more fit than 50-year-olds. It doesn’t matter how athletic you once were, when your body ages, you need to exercise to maintain it,” said teaching assistant Bella Bulsara, who will graduate this spring with a bachelor’s of science degree and continue on to graduate school to become a physical therapist. “The most important goal is to preserve the ability to perform simple tasks, like lifting your arms and walking, without losing breath. Each person has his or her own constraints. The students learn how to tailor exercises to the individual, even when leading a large group.”

More Collaboration

Last year, the center began collaboration with Rutgers’ School of Health Professions, in which Aging Track program director Tracy Davis brought her perspective as a researcher in gerontology as an instructor and guest lecturer. In the future, Kaplowitz envisions more collaboration with the school.

The students perform community outreach as well. Since 2009, they have helped supervise the New Jersey Senior Olympics in Woodbridge and participated in the Middlesex County Run/Walk by hosting programs on balance, performing fitness tests and offering games.

“I bubble over when I exercise with the students. They give great pointers,” said Millie Holder, 93, a resident at Monroe Village. “It’s so important to keep as active as possible for your ability — even if you’re just moving your fingers. The students help me zero in on arthritis; I roll a ball up my arm with one finger, squeeze a ball or use stretch bands, but chair aerobics is my favorite.”

Exercise has improved Holder’s stamina. “I used to think it was such long walk to my apartment. Now, I run from my home to the auditorium,” she said. “Being active every day is the best thing that has ever happened to me.” — Newswise

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