Movement for Life - Top Submission for 2018 SeniorsZen Scholarship Award

SeniorsZen is pleased to announce the winner of our 5th annual scholarship. It was a difficult decision to choose winners from the excellent essays and infographics we received from students all across Canada. Students were asked to either write an essay or create an infographic discussing senior living in Canada. The 2018 winner is:

Kelly Offer – Kelly is in her final term at the Canadian College of Massage and Hydrotherapy in Cambridge, ON. Kelly’s essay highlights the common misconceptions about what seniors can accomplish and how often those misconceptions are incorrect.  As Kelly quotes in her essay, “We just need to give them the opportunity to shine”.

Movement for Life

Working with seniors always frightened me. I saw them as fragile and, well, old. I was ‘Killer Kelly’, my classes were not for the faint of heart. Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself working with the senior population. (Or children, but that’s a whole other can of worms!) As fate would have it, through a series of (un)fortunate events I found myself at 35-years-young standing in front of my first group of ‘seniors’ quite unprepared to teach them an exercise class.

‘What can they even do?’

‘What if one of them falls and breaks a hip or has a heart attack?’

‘They probably won’t even hear me never mind understand what I want them to do.’

‘Should I even use music? Oldies, ugh!’

These were some of the early conversations I had with myself. They would never be able to keep up with me. I looked out at the mass of grey hair and … what were they wearing? Street clothes, pants and shirts, like they were going out for a lunch date not a fitness class. Some of them even had on panty hose and make up! I gritted my teeth and proceeded on with my first class.

Seventeen years later, I am still teaching at the same centre, to some of the very same seniors that were in my first class. They taught me more about ‘teaching’ a class than any course I had taken before or have taken since. They made me accountable for every exercise I did with them.

‘Why are we doing this?’

‘Where should I feel that?’

‘I haven’t had my legs open like that in years!!’

Their enthusiasm and total enjoyment of movement caught me off guard. Their sense of humour (and sometimes lack of a filter) gave me some of the best laughs of my life. They didn’t need to run marathons and climb mountains. They needed to be able to get in and out of a chair with ease, put their pants on without falling over, take out the garbage, play with their grandkids. They needed to laugh and be social with each other in the class, not count repetitions. I didn’t need to make my classes easier, I needed to make them functional. My seniors taught me that.

As the years passed I could see them getting stronger, their balance improving, their posture straightening. As I added new challenges, they willingly accepted, they started lifting heavier weights and began to realize just how strong they were! They would tell me that they didn’t need their crutch on their last vacation. They could pick up their grandchildren and great-grandchildren with no pain. They had better focus and less anxiety. Sometimes their ‘aha’ moment came when they stopped exercising while away for the winter or just for a holiday. They would return with tales of aches and pains they hadn’t felt for months returning, difficulty walking, difficulty sleeping.

‘Oh, how I missed your classes!’ was a very common greeting after a time away.

I truly believe that movement is life. People at any age have much better outcomes for healing, recovery, prevention and happiness when they are physically active every day. In my experience, these outcomes are more pronounced in the senior population. Since many seniors are widows/widowers, exercise classes also offer much needed social interaction. Many studies have proven that exercise improves cognitive function. Not medication, just plain old movement. Imagine a world where it is not the norm for a senior to be on 5 different types of medication. Where it is the norm for a senior to be squatting in front of a grandchild playing with Lego.

Exercise offers seniors the chance to be independent longer. It makes them stronger in body and mind. The focus needs to shift to what they can do and away from what they can’t do. As I discovered many years ago, the strongest limitation is in the mind. I have seen seniors do amazing things. Surfing at 78, bronze medal for masters triathlon at 80, running a marathon at 98, teaching yoga at 90. Whether you think you can or cannot, you are right. One of my favourite quotes and so applicable to this population. “We just need to give them the opportunity to shine”.

Our facility had the good fortune of being able to renovate to add a multipurpose fitness/programming room several years ago. This enabled us to add more classes to meet the rising demand.

What started off as 2 classes per week has turned into over 23 classes. I’m happy to say most of them have waiting lists! We still offer our original aerobic and strength training classes, but also have Zumba, yoga, boot camp, Pilates, stretch, men’s fitness and much more. In my community, the senior population is rocking the golden years. Movement is the oil for their joints and the stimulus for their brains.

 

Again, we’d like to congratulate Kelly and thank all of the students who applied for the scholarship, not only for their essays and infographics but for their compassion and determination to improve the lives of Canadian seniors and their families.

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