It’s Thursday morning. Music is blaring from a portable speaker in the Day Creek Seniors Villas community room. A booming voice can be heard, calling out exercise moves to a room full of older adults, ranging in age from 62 to 91 years old.
The class, led by Coach Evan Russo, a personal trainer specializing in senior fitness, specifically targets the muscles, tendons, and joints that are most at risk for injury in aging bodies. Chairs are set up in the room to ensure safety and stability. Russo’s exercises include stretches that improve mobility in the ankles, shoulders, legs, and arms to minimize injury, dancing and cardio that increase fitness and quality of life, and brain exercises that increase reaction times and mental sharpness.
“A lot of it is injury prevention,” said Russo. “But it’s also about social connection. They’re making friends, they’re having that social atmosphere – that might be as important as the actual workouts. We’ve been doing this for five or six months and now I can really see the friendships blooming.”
The classes began virtually during the pandemic, as a way to keep senior residents engaged, healthy, and connected during stay-at-home mandates.
“As the pandemic dragged on, talking to people who worked in senior facilities, [they said] ‘you know, these people are isolated, it’s really having a negative effect, not only physically but psychologically,’” Coach Russo said.
Coach Russo was introduced to Hope through Housing by our founder and board member, Andy Wright and his wife Blenda. Together, Coach Russo and Blenda, who is now a co-instructor for the classes, have brought new energy to the senior fitness program and re-engaged many residents.
Currently, they provide classes at nine senior communities. Because of its popularity, Hope through Housing is pursuing plans to expand the program to reach more seniors.
At the end of the class, Coach Russo asks if there are any questions. A resident speaks up, asking for recommendation on her own exercise routine in the onsite gym; another asks about healthy nutrition.
“Everyone knows exercise is important. But exercise is more important for older adults because it gives you the ability to function in your life better,” said Russo. “Some of my clients, they’re not happy cause they can’t participate in things they used to do. Slowly, over time, they get back the strength, they get back the confidence to do those things. And they start doing them.”