Although February snow blankets the central Ohio landscape, Beth Marlor, 65, is thinking of summer breezes and Rocky Mountain highs. In July, she’ll meet up with four friends in Boulder, Colorado, for a four-day backpacking expedition. It’s an outing the chums — who’ve dubbed themselves The Wild Mountain Mamas — have made three times in the last six years.
“Since I’m from the flatlands,” Marlor says with a laugh, “we usually hike [only] nine or 10 miles a day.”
A retired schoolteacher who lives with her husband, Joe, at Westminster-Thurber, a continuing-care retirement community in Columbus, Marlor is no slouch when it comes to fitness.
“I’m very aware that as people age, it’s only the lucky ones who remain in good shape without exercising,” she says. “The rest of us have to take a really proactive approach to staying healthy.”
So Marlor avoids the elevator whenever possible, opting instead to take the 100 steps up to and down from her sixth-floor apartment. To prepare for the Colorado trip, she’s developed a regimen that includes logging two miles a day, five days a week, on the treadmill –– along with three hours of yoga –– in Westminster-Thurber’s state-of-the-art fitness center. Marlor has also taken to walking five miles a week wearing her backpack, which she fills with 20 pounds of canned goods to simulate the weight of the provisions she’ll carry on the trail. It’s a routine, she says, that’s become much more than physical.
“Mentally and spiritually, exercise is so important to me,” Marlor explains. “It has made me a better wife, mother and friend. And it has given me perspective: When I spend 40 minutes walking, my problems don’t seem as large.”
“In fact,” she adds, “most of them turn into minor irritations.”
Marlor is not alone in her pursuit of optimal health. Increasing numbers of active baby boomers, who’ve left the 9-to-5 grind behind, are making the move to retirement communities.
But they have no intention of slowing down.
And, in response, the complexes are developing an array of programs designed to keep all residents mentally and physically in shape — no matter the age or stage of life they are in.
“We encourage our residents to engage in at least 20 minutes of activity three or more times a week,” says physical therapist Kim Hansen, Westminster-Thurber’s director of rehabilitation.
Hansen and her staff are committed to making exercise enjoyable for everyone. Residents are invited to use the community’s weight room, which features pressurized machines known to be gentler on joints. A personal trainer is also available to tailor-make fitness routines and give one-on-one instruction on how the equipment works.
“Cardiac strengthening, along with flexibility,” Hansen explains, “keeps muscles in shape and promotes balance, which reduces the risk of falls and other injuries.
“Our goal,” she adds, “is to help our residents age in place, and avoid high blood pressure, heart disease and other chronic conditions.”
That philosophy is also evident at Laurel Lake, a continuing-care retirement community in Hudson, where members participate in a whirlwind of activities. They include the New Year’s Day Chili Open, held on the greens of the three-hole golf course residents raised funds to build last year, and Keys to a Sharp Mind, a lifelong-learning series of seminars, with topics that include current-events discussions and workshops focusing on ways to sharpen computer skills.
“We look at well-being from six dimensions,” explains Susan Busko, Laurel Lake wellness manager, “so we design programs in which our residents are holistically taken care of in the
intellectual, spiritual, emotional, social, vocational and physical sense.”
This year, Laurel Lake is adding a new component with videoconferencing capabilities to connect the community with lectures and classes offered by arts and cultural organizations in Cleveland’s University Circle, including the Cleveland Art Museum, Cleveland Institute of Music and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
“I see my role here as a facilitator,” says Busko. “If a resident has an idea for a new program, we help them formulate it and do all we can to make it happen.”
Faith Bye, 71, who has lived at Laurel Lake for two and a half years with her husband, Bruce, enjoys the innovative courses the community offers. Her favorite: Verbomania, a spelling group, in which a dozen participants research the meanings and origins of 10 new words each week.
Bye is clearly learning her lessons well. Last year, she finished first in the fifth-annual Northeast Ohio Senior Adult Spelling Bee, created by geropsychologist Paula Hartman-Stein, founder of The Center for Healthy Aging in Kent. Then, it was on to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where Bye competed in the AARP
National Senior Spelling Bee.
“I’ve always been a good speller,” says Bye, a former operations manager for a pharmaceutical company. “But I learn something new every session. It keeps the mind sharp.”
At Maple Knoll Village, Jerry Pietch helps ensure that residents never get bored. “My attitude is: The busier, the better,” says the 78-year-old retired electrical engineer, who’s lived at the Cincinnati continuing-care retirement community with his wife, Elaine, for 15 years.
Each year, Pietch helps organize a slate of Senior Olympics events, including water volleyball competitions and games of Wii bowling, tennis and golf. He also enjoys teaching the ins and outs of computers to his neighbors. “We start with the basics — ‘The grandkids gave me a computer, now what do I do?’ — and move on from there,” Pietch says with a smile.
Although he admits to “lazing around” on the weekends, that doesn’t mean lying around. Saturday mornings find him at Maple Knoll’s radio station, where he’s helping develop a database for the extensive collection of LPs that has been donated to the community. And Pietch makes sure to spend time in his garage, creating stained-glass works of art, which he donates to village fund-raisers. He and his wife also enjoy participating in trips residents help plan, which range from Amish Country day tours to four-day sojourns to Branson, Missouri, and Holland, Michigan.
“Sitting around and watching television,” Pietch chuckles, “just doesn’t hold our interest.”
The Knolls of Oxford, a continuing-care retirement community located just 1.5 miles west of Miami University, is also committed to helping residents reach their potential in new and creative ways. A case in point is Opening Minds Through Art, a program developed in conjunction with the university’s Scripps Gerontology Center. Residents struggling with memory-impairment or other dementia-related issues are paired with volunteers who help them create a work of art that best expresses their thoughts and feelings.
“The OMA project is a very nonthreatening way to remain highly creative, and offers a means for self-expression,” explains The Knolls of Oxford’s executive director Tim McGowan.
Finished pieces are titled, signed by the artists, framed and spotlighted in a show hosted by the Oxford Community Arts Center. McGowan describes the opening-night reception — complete with wine and cheese — as being a celebration unlike any he’s ever attended.
“Not only does it positively impact residents when they see their work on display,” he explains, “but it’s also very poignant when families see the talent their loved one possesses.
“The show,” he adds, “takes artwork to a whole new level.”