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Westmoreland County Housing Authority - Helping Seniors Age in Place By Staying Active and Exercising
By Daniel Casciato

Westmoreland County Housing Authority (WCHA) believes that through more activity and exercise, seniors can lead longer and healthier lives.

It’s with this in mind that WCHA encourages its senior residents to participate in its new Flex Fit program that will hopefully aid them to successfully “age in place,” whereas they can live more safely, independently and comfortably.

“We recognize the need for, or the importance of wellness, with housing. If you have stable housing and stable health and wellness opportunities, then hopefully you’re better prepared for the aging process,” says WCHA Executive Director Michael L. Washowich.

The Flex Fit, a 45-minute exercise wellness program, was introduced last year at South Greengate Commons (SGC), the authority’s newest elderly-only apartment complex located in Hempfield Township, and has proven to be so successful that the authority has decided to expand it to an additional nine elderly and disabled communities across Westmoreland County.

Roxanne Dreher, a wellness exercise coach, created Flex Fit after being approached by WCHA Hope in Life Director Lynn Wackenhuth to create a wellness program for adults of all abilities, including those who use a walker or a wheelchair.

“Our residents love it and attend regularly,” says Wackenhuth. “After joining WCHA, Roxanne has done a great job of having an exercise program that can be modified for anyone of any ability. She modifies it for everyone so that they all get something out of the experience. And she keeps it so fun. They just have a great time.”

There are no set routines with Flex Fit, according to Dreher. Most of what she teaches the class is to improve their balance and flexibility. She does follow the four exercise guidelines recommended by the National Institute on Aging — endurance, coordination, relaxation and education.

“To create this program, I took the best parts of everything that I've ever worked with and incorporated it into its own wellness program,” Dreher explains. “Anyone can participate in it. The only requirement is that all residents bring four things to them to each class - a sense of humor, a common gratitude, an open mind, and their own common sense.”

For Dreher, it was important to not develop an exercise program where she and the residents would just go through the routines and motions. Her goal is to educate them about why they go through those motions. She also gives residents different exercises and charts to follow and encourages each of them to continue exercising in their own on the days when there is no class.

One thing that Dreher talks about at each of her classes is falling. Nothing truly prevents a fall - everyone will fall, she says. But what she discusses with her class almost on a regular basis is overcoming that fear of falling.

“We're so afraid of things that fear prevents some people from being a little more active,” she says. “So we often focus on overcoming the fear of falling.”

She adds that there are so many benefits to exercise as most everyone knows. “But the most important benefit is that it helps you maintain your ability to remain independent.”

Research has shown that exercise can help improve your lifestyle and allow you to live longer and live better. Research has also shown that exercise can not only benefit your physical health, but you also reap the benefits of the mental end of the spectrum for seniors and for all older adults, she stated.

That's the over-riding goal for the authority’s Hope in Life Program, adds Wackenhuth. The program offers resident activities and drug-prevention programming.

“Our health and wellness programming stresses the importance of aging in place and doing it well,” says Wackenhuth. “We want our residents to be as healthy as they possibly can and as risk free as possible.”

Dreher notes that it doesn’t necessarily take a gym for you to get healthy.

“Whether you walk, participate in Flex Fit or any other exercise program, just get out there and do it,” she says. “Once you’re there, we recommend trying to get outside of your comfort zone because once you get there, all good things happen. There should be no boundary.”

For more information, visit www.wchaonline.com.

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