February 8, 2008

In a Greenup County church’s gym, senior citizens dance, bend, lift and stretch their way to healthier lifestyles through the county’s University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension active aging program.

Research shows Kentucky is one of the least active states in the nation. According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, more than two-thirds of the state’s population has very little physical activity. A lack of physical activity can reduce quality of life and shorten life spans.

In its second year, the active aging program is trying to improve these statistics. It began in fall 2006 with a six week program, but the participants didn’t feel like it made much of an impact and requested lengthening the program, said Rita Spence, the county’s extension family and consumer sciences agent. Last fall, the program was 10 weeks long. Classes were offered once a week in Flatwoods and South Shore.

Spence said exercise increases the participants’ flexibility and helps them do common tasks, such as fastening a seatbelt, that get more difficult as people age.

“It’s helpful if they can learn things to prevent them from going into a nursing home, but everyone can be successful,” Spence said. By prolonging the move to a nursing home, participants and their families save over $30,000 a year.

Locally known instructor Doris Wellman led the program. In addition to teaching this program, she also offers classes at nursing homes and assisted living centers and works with the Boyd County Extension Service.

Wellman said she evaluates the class on what types of exercises they are able to perform and plans her programs around their needs and abilities. Activities include dancing, muscle toning, low-scale aerobics and interaction with a parachute and a ball.

“I balance the program so everyone can participate,” Wellman said.

The participants are a diverse group of people. While the majority of them are senior citizens, the class is open to all ages. They come from all areas of the county with one person traveling from Ironton, Ohio to attend. Many different faiths are represented, and men as well as women participate.

“We always have good attendance,” Wellman said. “It’s not hit and miss. When they come, they come.”

Spence said the class is many of the participants’ first experience with extension programs.

Program participant Eldean Roberts of Flatwoods said she has attended every class that has been offered because she enjoys the exercise. In addition to the class, she said she walks daily.

“It just makes you feel good,” Roberts said.

Some of the participants have had drastic changes since the program began. Spence said one man in the class told her that as a result of the exercises, he’s now able to lift his foot off the floor, a movement he was incapable of before.

Spence said in addition to the physical aspect, the program gives seniors a chance to socialize with one another and renew old friendships.

“They look forward to it,” Spence said. “They’re doing activities and exercises they enjoy.”

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