Marg Slizak and Donna Holmes have been laughing together since they first met as students at Beairsto elementary school.
They’re still laughing and having fun as they arrive for their weekly session of Move it and Mingle, the physical fitness and socialization program that runs at the Army, Navy & Airforce in Vernon.
“We have so much fun here,” said Slizak. “We love the camaraderie and the people. We’ve got to keep moving or we’re going to seize up.”
Move it and Mingle got its start in 2009 in West Kelowna, when registered nurse Shannon Paul-Jost moved to the area from Calgary and felt there was something missing for older adults.
“There didn’t seem to be the physical fitness and educational piece together,” said Paul-Jost, who runs Vitality Network Canada, which operates health promotion programs. “At both the provincial and federal levels, we are moving more towards healthy communities, so while I saw lots of physical activity programs, that socialization, health education and fun component seemed to be missing in the community.”
Working with the Westside Health Network, she received a grant to put a proposal together for a pilot program and ran Move it and Mingle in West Kelowna for four years.
Two years ago, she started running the program at the Schubert Centre and is now offering the program at the ANAF every Tuesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., facilitated by RN Chella Percey with instructor Darla-Rae Jenic.
Funded by Interior Health’s Integrated Health Network, the program consists of 45 minutes of exercise and 45 to 60 minutes of structured socialization.
“We are always open to new participants, so we want to get the word out,” said Percey. “If you are bored and lonely, you want to make some friends and have fun doing it, this is the place to be.”
Percey said it’s easy for many older adults to become isolated, particularly if they’ve come down with the flu or simply a bad cold.
“You get the flu, you stay home for two weeks and now you’ve got a pattern where you’ve been at home watching TV and now you’re feeling a little better but you’re having a hard time getting out the door, so you need a way to break the pattern — Movie it and Mingle is a great place to start.”
The exercise portion consists of physical activities that focus on strengthening muscles, balance, coordination and flexibility. Equipment such as free hand weights, resistance bands, bean bags and balls are used, with all exercises focused on preventing falls, and aging well in the community.
“Everyone goes at their own pace,” said Percey. “We have chairs set up, so if you are tired, sit down — it’s all about you. You can work at your own fitness level, you don’t need to worry about keeping up with anyone else. And it’s all about having fun and keeping safe.”
The structured socialization follows the physical activity and begins with some fun, perhaps telling a joke or two and then moving on to brain exercises or “ice breakers,” which challenge memory, language, attention and creativity.
For Pat Schneider, the program’s appeal lay in the fact that it was more than just an exercise class.
“I need the exercise, but this is something more than just plain exercise,” she said. “You have the social part, and we have a lot of fun, as well as some interesting speakers.”
As Dorothy Hathaway easily works the bright green TheraBand during a seated resistance exercise, she said she enjoys everything about the program.
“I love it, the people are so nice, we have such a good time,” she said. “And I come with two ladies in my building, so I get a ride with them.”
And Holmes, a participant since 2009, said while there may be days she doesn’t feel like coming to class, she’s always glad she made the effort.
“It’s the laughter that keeps me coming back,” she said. “And if you get in a rut, it’s good to have someone come with you, so Marg and I motivate each other to get here.”
After the fun, the group is ready for a discussion on a health topic, chosen by the participants. Topics so far have included brain health, paying attention, managing stress, healthy eating and nutrition, how to read food labels.
“We have them identify the health topics they’re interested in and we also get in some guest speakers,” said Percey. “We will also talk about what’s in the news and at the moment, the hot topic is the H1N1 flu virus.”
For Jenic, instructing at Move it and Mingle provides a nice contrast to the boot camp classes she teaches in the evenings.
“This is a wonderful preventative program for older adults, and we have so much fun,” she said.
The 10-week program runs every Tuesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Pre-registration is preferred, but Paul-Jost said people are welcome to drop in and sign up in person.
Registration fee is $50, but Percey said participants are given a form to send in which will allow them to get the fee reimbursed by the provincial government.
Prior to starting their first class, participants are tested for leg strength, balance, flexibility and coordination. As well, their resting blood pressure and pulse are done prior to exercising along with a questionnaire that assesses their own perception of their health and social well-being. These measurements are re-checked at the end of the 10 weeks.
“The improvement in the participant’s scores are positive indicators for improving health,” said Paul-Jost.
Move it and Mingle is about to become an important part of a study for med school students at UBCO, said Percey, where a study will be conducted to determine the effects of the program on social isolation and loneliness in seniors.
“The study will go across the valley and will involve medical students, kinesiology students and RN students,” she said. “We want to get people out of the house and into this program.”
For more information or to sign up for Move it and Mingle, please call 778-480-4809 or e-mail Shannon@VitalityNetworkCanada.com