FEB. 28, 2011

Seniors bond over benefits of exercise

BY SARA WYKES

Norbert von der Groeben description of photo

Strong for Life classes help Sylvia Wildmann maintain her independence.

Victorine Raugi is brave and bright of spirit although disabled in body. She can’t walk independently. Yet there she is at Little House, a senior center in Menlo Park, hands grasping the ends of a yellow rubber fitness band, stretching its resistance with all her might. “I talked to my doctor about this and she said, ‘Keep it up.’ At 92, I’m failing but this is keeping me strong.”

Today, Raugi is surrounded by more than 30 other seniors, as they twist, bend and lift their aging bodies with youthful enthusiasm. They are just some of the 300 people now taking advantage of this twice-weekly free exercise program, called Strong for Life, which is supported by Stanford Hospital & Clinics.

Scientific research continues to reinforce the powerful influence of regular physical activity to maintain health. The physical movements in each 45-minute class can reclaim mobility for stiff joints and increase strength in underused muscles.

The program’s most valuable accomplishments are independence, fall prevention and a tangible boost in attitude, said Candace Mindigo, RN, BSN, the program director and manager of SHC’s Aging Adult Services. People flock to the program, she said, “because it makes them feel stronger, and when you are stronger, you feel better and you’re more positive about your health in general.”

At each of the eight Strong for Life sites on the mid-Peninsula, people who come to the class regularly soon bond to form a special social community. “They have a lot of fun, whether they are lawyers, PhDs, MBAs or teachers,” said volunteer leader Kate Buckley. “They save seats for each other and feel free to engage in repartee.”

They develop a strong sense of loyalty and deep commitment to one another, she said. “One man came to class just to tell us his wife wouldn’t be there because she was sick.”

Although the exercises are valuable for general health, they can be most useful when someone is recovering from a stroke, broken hip or other medical condition, program volunteers say.

Buckley said it’s inspiring to see the determination and drive of the participants as they move from an easy fitness band to a tougher one. “People just don’t give up. ‘I can do it,’ they say. ‘I can get better.’ It’s very humbling.”

Funded in part by the National Institute on Aging, the program was developed at the Roybal Center for the Enhancement of Late Life Function at Boston University. It was first offered at Stanford in 2003 and expanded to local senior centers in 2005.

For all its impact, Strong for Life operates on a relatively small budget that supports four paid coordinators. Fourteen volunteers travel to the senior centers in Menlo Park, Redwood City, East Palo Alto, Mountain View and Palo Alto.

“They are very enthusiastic and supportive of all the participants,” Mindigo said. “They keep doing this because they know they’re helping people. We are doing preventive care that keeps older adults at home and out of the hospital. It really makes a difference in people’s daily activities.”

Strong for Life sessions are offered on an ongoing basis. Sessions are free but many classes have a waiting list, so registration is required. To check class availability, please call (650) 725-4137.


Sara Wykes is a writer in the communications office at Stanford Hospital & Clinics. 

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and patient care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Hospital & Clinics and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu/.

Stanford Medicine Resources:

Footer Links: