For the Seniors at North Hill, 70 Really is the New 50

Recently, the folks at Helsinki University Research (HUR) asked if they could feature someone from our fitness team in an ongoing series they call “HUR’s Heros.” If you’re a resident of North Hill, you have likely used the HUR strength training and balance equipment installed in our Fitness Center, and love it as much as we do. HUR’s Heros is about showcasing the people behind the health and wellness programs at some of the nation’s leading senior living communities, so we were thrilled to be selected.

HUR spoke with Linda Riley our Fitness Manager and Chris Morrison, one of our trainers. This was their conversation…

HUR: Tell us a bit about the health and wellness programs offered to residents at North Hill.

Linda: One of the fundamental values that drives everything we do at North Hill is an ideal we call “PurposeFULL Living.” It means that we believe that the lives of our residents should be full of thing they love and enjoy. We do our best to provide as many opportunities as possible for residents to pursue the things that are important to them. Our health and wellness programs are designed to keep them healthy, active and strong enough to pursue those activities for as long as possible.

We are really fortunate to have a state-of-the-art Fitness Center right on our campus that is about 10,000 square feet. Not only is the center equipped with top of the line equipment, such as the HUR strength and balance training machines, we offer a wide variety of classes that treat health and well-being holistically. We strive to offer enough variety that there really is something here for everyone.

I love it when I hear a resident say something like, “I’m doing more things that I love to do now than I’ve done in my entire life.” That’s why one of our most important classes is called the Balance Clinic. Because most of the time, filling their days with activities they enjoy requires good balance.

HUR: Tell us more about Balance Clinic and why it’s such an important part of what you do to support the health and well-being of your residents.

Chris: Fall prevention is really important to us at North Hill because we know how drastically a fall can affect our residents’ quality of life. Falls are actually the leading cause of injuries for older adults – both fatal and non-fatal. Not to mention how much a fall threatens to downgrade a person’s independence and quality of life!

So, the Balance Clinic is a huge part of what we do at North Hill for fall prevention. But the Clinic is also important because having good balance allows our residents to fill their days with the activities they love, which, as Linda stated, is an important part of what we do here.

One of our residents saw no decrease in balance from her early 80’s to her early 90’s because of balance class. Those are the kinds of things that are so amazing to see.

Most of our residents are quite active and not really thinking about balance when they first visit the Fitness Center. For residents new to the Fitness Center, we do a health assessment and introduce them to all the equipment in our facility, including the iBalance. The iBalance allows me to run an assessment that tells us what their current balance level is. The assessment is quick and displays their results on a touchscreen right away, using metrics that are easy to understand.

When their balance score pops up, many new residents are surprised by their score. If they are already pretty active, they might not notice how much their balance is deteriorating until it’s too late. So, getting that accurate assessment allows me to create a program for them early – before they fall, or before a lack of balance starts to prevent them from doing what they love.

One of our residents told us that she’d almost fallen while on a trip in Japan, which could have been disastrous, as you can imagine. Falling is horrible no matter what, but especially if you’re that far from home and in a foreign country. She was able to catch herself and stop from falling, an ability she attributes directly to the balance class. Hearing stories like that fuels our work like nothing else.

HUR: Is the iBalance a part of all the work you do with residents at North Hill?

Chris: Yes. The iBalance is one of the foundational tools we use to establish a baseline balance score for our residents. The information provided in those personal assessments is fundamental to the plan we create for the improvement of balance.

As I mentioned earlier, when a resident first comes to us, we do a health assessment and introduce them to all the equipment in our facility, including the iBalance. It’s not difficult to get residents to try it out. They are usually already curious about it. Once they realize how user friendly it is and how fun the games are, they use it all the time!

Balance can sometimes be a scary thing for seniors. The iBalance is loaded with games that allow them to do things like play tennis or go skiing, so they aren’t just working out – they’re having fun.

It’s also really fun to see how competitive residents get with themselves, always trying to beat their last score! But, they also quickly notice how their improved balance is making the rest of their life easier, and that motivates them even more.

Also, we have a wide range of residents at North Hill – people of all different ages and ability levels. Balance class for everyone, so I love that the iBalance is accessible, even for those in wheelchairs.

The ability to train independently is actually a feature I love about all our HUR equipment. Once we program their information into the machine, all residents need to do is scan their personalized wrist band and the machines adjusts the seat and other settings automatically.

HUR machines supports independent workouts in a lot of other ways as well. Some count their reps and gives an auditory cue once an exercise is complete. The machines even tell them what they should move onto next in accordance with their personalized training program.

As a trainer, I also appreciate that the machines use air resistance instead of stacks of weights. Air resistance is much easier on joints, and just safer in general for older adults. Plus, they can start out in many cases with a zero-starting load and then work up in very small increments.

Linda: When North Hill first purchased the HUR equipment the iBalance was completely foreign to me. After getting trained on the machine, I could immediately see how useful it would be for our residents. Personally, I’ve become more passionate about good balance over the past couple of years, attending conferences and seeking out resources that I believe to be of value for our residents.

Building strength is also important and I love our HUR strength training equipment. So many of our residents are super active! They are out doing all sorts of things, including playing with, or caring for their grandchildren. And this is where a holistic approach to health is important. In order for our residents to be able to maintain the kind of lifestyle they want and continue to try new things, they need good balance, and exercises that build muscle and cardiovascular health. It all works together.

Also, one thing I think we’ve been missing in our overall fitness program is the ability to measure outcomes. For example, if you’re using standard exercise equipment you have to just rely on how much weight you can handle or how you feel to know if you’re getting stronger – to know if the exercise is making a difference. The iBalance gives us actual metrics so we can track the progress of individuals as well as our entire population over time.

Q: What do you most enjoy about working with the seniors at North Hill?

Chris: I love getting to know our residents and listening to their stories. I also love seeing their competitive nature come out in the gym. They want to be healthy, active and strong. It’s personally inspiring and motivating, and so rewarding.

For example, one of our residents is this tiny, frail woman who is completely committed to remaining active. She absolutely loves doing downhill skiing on the iBalance and gets totally into it. She said she gets more movement playing that game than any other activity in her life. I am so grateful we are able to provide opportunities like this for our residents – to take care of themselves and enjoy doing it.

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