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Let’s get physical

Programs cater to seniors’ health and fitness needs


The importance of staying fit doesn’t change as we age. In fact, it becomes more important as the threat of health issues such as osteoporosis and diabetes becomes greater. Thankfully, the Triangle is fortunate to have world-class hospitals that offer specific programs catered to the needs of seniors.


Fulfilling fitness needs

Located on the campus of Duke Raleigh Hospital, the Wellness Center at Duke Raleigh offers a variety of classes, including aerobics, circuit training and yoga. The medical fitness center, which also offers cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation programs, is staffed by a certified cardiac rehabilitation nurse, diabetes educator, clinical exercise specialist, registered dietician, and respiratory therapist.


“Health and fitness for the older adult should improve and sustain health, promote independence, and improve quality of life,” says Andrea Layton, RNBC, CDE, program manager for the wellness center, which offers membership to the general public.


According to Layton, regular physical activity prevents loss of muscle strength, has been shown to prevent falls, improves flexibility and balance, and decreases the risk of chronic conditions such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis.


“The social networking aspect is very important as well,” she adds.


Safeway to Fitness, part of WakeMed Health & Hospitals’ Healthworks medical center, began as a maintenance program for cardiac rehabilitation but has expanded to offer supervised fitness catering primarily to older adults. The medical fitness center, which also offers membership to the general public, has several fitness specialists on staff, as well as an outpatient care component. The program stresses education as well as the importance of an active lifestyle.


“It’s important that seniors find activities that they enjoy and make them part of their lifestyle,” says Marie Bagin, fitness specialist.


“Instead of meeting for cards, they could meet for a walk with friends or do some gardening,” she adds. “These types of things make a big difference in the long run.”


The importance of education

The Rex Senior Health Center in downtown Raleigh offers medical care for acute problems but focuses more specifically on prevention and education when it comes to health care.


“We encourage patients to engage in prudent preventive interventions such as mammograms, colonoscopies and eye exams,” says Dr. Leroy S. Darkes, medical director.


“This leads to the next function, which is education,” he adds. “We promote healthy habits and information to empower people.”


According to Darkes, the center serves a broad-based slice of the senior population.


“We have people who’ve never learned to read and others who are retired college professors,” he notes.


The center educates patients not only on their own health needs but also on their rights as citizens.


“Even within the medical community, it’s unfortunately a reality that seniors are viewed and treated as second-class citizens,” Darkes says.


“All of us are heading down that pathway to aging,” he adds. “What we try to do here is ensure that there’s at least a model of care out there that’s acceptable to us when we get to be seniors.” 


Danielle Jackson is editor of Wake Living, Fifteen501 and Triad Living magazines.


Specialized fitness

Falling is one of the biggest fears most seniors face. Michelle Lambert Tefft, owner and manager of Fitness Together in North Raleigh, offers advice to help prevent the likelihood.


“Be sure to include exercises that will challenge your balance,” she says, citing exercises such as doing a biceps curl on a balance board.


“These types of exercises also help improve coordination and make you think.”


Lambert Tefft also recommends improving bone density through resistance and strength training. The facility, which serves many clients 50 and older, creates customized fitness programs and nutritional guides.


“Whether a client’s goal is to lose weight, improve muscle tone, increase flexibility, lower blood pressure or prevent diabetes, we can help them improve their quality of life,” she says.