Finding your flow
Going beyond regimented self-care routines to bring meaning (and fun) back to active living
It’s never easy to try something new. And embarking on a wellness journey is no exception—the fitness industry can be ruthless in its depictions and recommendations to achieve perfection—often at the expense of what is realistically attainable for anyone, regardless of ability or age.
The legwarmer revolution
Flashback to the fitness explosion of the 1980’s and you may recall volumes upon volumes of VHS tapes featuring A-list celebrities and their hard-bodied cohorts in neon spandex, multitudes of local access tv programs, in-person classes chasing the latest fad, mail-order gadgets, dubious meal plans, and a myriad of other devices and schemes to ‘help’ you achieve your fitness goals by lightening your wallet.
While the hair styles and delivery methods have changed, wellness industry tactics haven’t. The promise of perfection is no less pervasive than it was back then, the expectations of superhero-like physiques and gravity-defying power moves are met with ever-taunting ‘motivational’ soundbites like: “If I can do it, so can you!” “No more excuses!” and, “7 days to total fitness!”
Likewise, bold headlines like “Fit and Fabulous Over 50” are often accompanied by images of ultra-fit senior influencers in action: pumping (big) iron, bounding across marathon finish lines, competing (and winning) gruelling endurance challenges. Make no mistake: all of those achievements are the result of hard work, dedication, and perseverance, and should be celebrated—they break barriers and demonstrate what people can be capable of.
But, where does that leave the rest of the 50+ community full of individuals who may be considering starting their own wellness journey? Or what about seniors who have had to radically modify or entirely give up their previous activities due to injury or illness?
Research versus reality of active living
Without question, daily physical activity is good for everyone, especially seniors. Benefits include everything from decreased risk of injury, improved balance, opportunities to socialize with peers, better mental health, improved sleep, and an overall improvement on their quality of life. It’s important to not downplay the role of exercise and a balanced diet have in aging well, and remaining independent as long as possible.
But for the average senior, the resources available that are dedicated to their physical wellness still recommend daunting minimum numbers of minutes, reps, and steps, and lifestyle overhauls that seniors must commit to, to lead a healthy and productive post-retirement life. There may not be images of octogenarians hoisting medals on podiums in these resources, but there is still an overwhelming amount of pressure or vague advice, instead of practical, actionable solutions (“sleep better”, “don’t be stressed”, or “be happy!”), much of which subtly suggests the dire consequences of non-compliance.
The unfortunate result of pressuring an individual—especially a senior— to meet or exceed the recommended minimum requirements for daily “wellness” is that the complex routine of self-care quickly devolves into a laundry list of tasks and suddenly becomes a chore. In turn, this may negate many of the benefits and potentially cultivate a sense of failure or demotivation when that self-care routine becomes burdensome. And then, we’re back at square one.
Save the counting for birthday candles
Rather than focusing on the number of minutes, the amount of reps, or the gains and losses, finding a way to introduce activities gradually, or in conjunction with a hobby you or your loved one already enjoy can mean you more easily (and enjoyably) reap the benefits of physical movement and self-care.
“The key is getting to know residents personally,” Darian Ymbang, one of United’s registered kinesiologists, explains. “It’s important to understand what you enjoy. Doctors and family members can make recommendations, but joining a fitness class with strangers can be scary. Taking the time to get to know a resident and help them overcome their fears helps build their confidence. Once I know what a resident likes (or doesn’t like), I can coach them through movements they find fun and engaging.”
Having a range of programs that are enjoyable and encourage social interaction is important too. Laughter frequently erupts from United’s fitness studios (along with a couple of obligatory protest groans in jest) as residents follow along to classes at their own pace.
If group fitness classes aren’t a favourite, there’s resident-led walking clubs, afternoon games everyone is welcome to participate in, or residents can make use of amenities on their own. Monthly program highlights have also been known to feature unique wellness offerings such as laughter yoga, guided nature walks, or dance instruction.
And when it comes to dancing, residents have really taken the next step: after a few sessions with local line dance club Keepin’ It Country, residents formed a line dance troupe of their own, the Miss Steps, who delight fellow residents at special events in the community. “We loved the lessons so much, a group of us decided to start rehearsing on our own,” Darlene, a resident at Fish Creek explains. “I was in a line dance club a few years ago, so I knew some of the choreographies already, and we worked together to practice and memorize step sheets. Now we have a repertoire of nine routines, and we’re always trying new ones to share with everyone. We have so much fun, and look forward to our rehearsals every week.”
Focusing on the social aspect of the activity, rather than the physical, takes the pressure off residents, who are too busy having a good time to pay attention to the minutes they’re getting in. Before long, participants have built-in daily physical activity on their own, and can feel and see improvements in their quality of life without adhering to a strict regimen or meticulously recording progress. Can you imagine a morning fitness class you actually look forward to?
The same is true for one-on-one sessions too. “Some residents still prefer to work out on their own,” Tracy Roberts, registered kinesiologist at United observes. “We conduct one-on-one sessions in the comfort of their suites, so they can go through their exercises without feeling self-conscious. I’ve gotten to know residents really well, and the exercise is always secondary to the social interaction and the personal care and attention they receive. Having empathy when you’re working with a resident goes a long way, and the results speak for themselves.”
Counting when it matters
Many residents will however, start counting when it connects them to the broader Calgary community. Enter: group and charity fitness challenges—where fundraising efforts bring a sense of camaraderie, friendly competition, and even altruism to an activity.
At United, it’s common to see team members and residents working together to combine steps to complete Walk-a-Thon challenges or stepping out to raise funds at events like the Alzheimer Calgary Walk or Run for the Cause this October. Giving back to the community is a great motivator. Jim, a long-time resident at United is thrilled to get involved: “We love supporting community efforts, it makes us feel good to give back to organizations that support seniors.”
Ultimately, finding purpose in your day, feeling free to express yourself, and participating in activities that resonate with you, rather than crossing items off your pre-set wellness to-do list can guide you or your senior loved one to cultivate self-care both organically and enjoyably. (And trust us, if 80’s spandex and hair is your thing, we’re here for it!)
At United, programming, care, support, and social connections are all built-in to the community, empowering residents to choose what wellness looks like for themselves, as individuals.
Speak with one of our active living advisors about life in a United community. They can arrange tours of our Garrison Green and Fish Creek communities. If you know a friend or family member who could benefit from living in a United community, send them a link to our website or blog, or arrange a future visit. We are happy to help!