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Headline: Steppin' up with confidenceActive living
Steppin' up
with confidence

Community-based program helps
older adults become more active
Cory Juan with the Active living Seven Oaks group during a recent workout.
By Susie Strachan Photography by Marianne Helm Sept/Oct 2017
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On any given Tuesday or Thursday at 8:30 a.m., you'll find the Active Living Seven Oaks (ALSO) class moving to the music in the basement of St. Francis Anglican Church on Burrin Avenue.

Led by Cory Juan, the group of older adults work their way through a warm-up, proceed into 25 minutes of cardiovascular exercises followed by weight and balance training, do some exercises to promote flexibility, and then head into a cool-down period at the end of the hour.

The group follows an exercise program called Steppin' Up With Confidence, which is aimed at getting older adults to be physically active in order to maintain physical strength, flexibility and balance, and to encourage social interaction.

As the group winds down at the end of the hour, one of the women makes a joke about how, sooner or later, everyone in Juan's condo complex will become a member of Active Living Seven Oaks.

Juan laughs at that. She's a natural leader, very much interested in keeping people active and moving. She's a member of the Wellness Institute, and loves spreading the word about physical activity and mental health.

"Belonging to the Wellness Institute is great for me, but I found that some people can't travel there on a regular basis, and there's the matter of the cost of the membership for some," says Juan.

Active Living Seven Oaks members
Cory Juan puts Active Living Seven Oaks members
through their paces.

When she heard about the Steppin' Up program - which is run by peer leaders in the community and is offered for free - she knew she wanted to run a group.

"I used to power walk at Garden City mall, and one day, I found myself on the second floor, talking to promotions manager Erica Bracic about whether I could borrow a space to hold the classes in," she says. "She said yes, and we ran the group there until June, when they had renovations, and we moved here (to the church)."

ALSO member Amy Eisner says she used to go to aquasize classes a long time ago, but felt an immediate connection to this group. "Since I've retired, and am travelling more, I come to the group when I'm here. I've also learned a lot of exercises I can do at home and while travelling."

Joyce Young echoed that sentiment. "I first saw the group at the mall, when I was mall walking, and wondered what they were doing," she says. "Cory talked to me and encouraged me to join, and I've been exercising with ALSO ever since."

Steppin' Up With Confidence is run by the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults in Manitoba (ALCOA-MB). About 120 people have taken the program training and are leading exercise groups in Winnipeg, according to Jim Evanchuk, the Executive Director of ALCOA-MB.

"This type of programming is very successful in getting older adults to incorporate physical activity into their routines, which results in better health, both physically and mentally," he says.

Every leader takes a two-day workshop at the Wellness Institute at Seven Oaks Hospital or another location. The training covers how to lead safe, age-friendly and enjoyable exercise classes in the community.

"It incorporates a warm-up, cardio exercises, strength and balance training, flexibility and then a cool-down," says Evanchuk. "The program is designed to be offered for free, and to use minimal, low-cost items like small hand weights and dyna-bands for resistance."

Once the leaders are trained, they are paired with a mentor, someone who has been leading the exercise program for a while. The mentors offer support and answer questions, and give ideas on how to run a class. ALCOA-MB also helps leaders recruit class participants and secure a location to hold their classes in.

Sylvia Bonds
Sylvia Bonds leads an exercise class at St. Francis
Anglican Church, 253 Burrin Avenue.

"Classes are held in seniors' residences and 55-Plus Active Living centres, in local community clubs, in church basements, in shopping malls," says Evanchuk, adding that along with the over 100 active leaders in Winnipeg, there are 50 in rural Manitoba.

The exercises can be modified to suit each person's ability. Each exercise is described in a manual, which includes how to keep the exercises age-appropriate and how to safely adapt them if a participant wants to step things up.

Sylvia Bonds is another Steppin' Up peer leader. She leads a class at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, also at St. Francis Anglican church. After participating in Steppin' Up classes at St. Francis off and on for several years, Bonds took the leadership course. Following a period of mentorship, she started to lead a class in Sept. 2015.

"This keeps me moving," she says, adding she has personal motivation to keep the class going. "I couldn't get myself to exercise like this at home. By teaching the class, I definitely get the exercise. My body loves that."

Bonds runs a program similar to the one led by Juan, with a group of people who prefer a mid-morning time. She mentions that there's another Steppin' Up program at the nearby Gwen Sector Creative Living Centre on Fridays.

"There are plenty of options available in Winnipeg for someone looking for a free exercise program in their neighbourhood," she says. "The goal of the program is to get older adults moving and exercising. That has all sorts of health benefits. And people get to meet new people, talk to them and enjoy the company while they're getting exercise."

Susie Strachan is a communications specialist with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Benefits of physical activity for older adults

  • Improved blood circulation
  • Improved energy levels
  • Improved sleep
  • Reduced stress
  • Enhanced mental abilities
  • Continued independent living
  • Reduced risk for chronic diseases
  • Decreased risk for falling
  • Reduced joint problems
  • Increased social interaction
  • Health body weight maintenance
  • Improved muscle strength
  • Improved quality of life

Source: Steppin' Up With Confidence

Read more

Active Living Coalition for Older Adults (ALCOA-MB)