Peninsula JCC pushes active aging through exercise

The jury is in. As one approaches midlife and beyond, staying fit helps allay the physical degeneration associated with the aging process. In addition, it improves the spirit. But for many, changing from a sedentary to an active lifestyle is not an easy leap.

That's why the California Department of Health Services, in collaboration with UCSF has recently awarded a second Active Aging Grant to the Peninsula Jewish Community Center in Belmont.

The grant, which continues funding first awarded in 1999, will enable the JCC to develop a curriculum to help inactive adults over age 50 incorporate physical activity into their daily lives. The two grants bring the JCC a total of $24,350.

The grant was designed to help the JCC target "people who don't exercise on a regular basis," said Susan Ammons, director of the JCC's senior adult programs. "We hope to help people age more successfully, help them slow down the decline that is associated with frailty."

Forty seniors participated in the exercise grant program in 1999, about 30 of them staying with the program. The group included an equal number of men and women.

With its renewed grant — one of 15 awarded by the state — the JCC plans to focus particularly on younger seniors, people over 50 "who just don't do regular physical activity, for whatever reason," said Ammons.

While all Peninsula residents over age 50 — Jewish and non-Jewish — are eligible, the JCC would like to target the so-called "young old," who will be the next wave of seniors, according to Ammons.

It is not an easy group to reach. For one, many are still working and, in some cases, helping to care for older parents or grandchildren.

"It's very difficult to attract younger older people," she said. "Every program that I know of in the Bay Area is looking out for ways to reach out to that age population and it's a real challenge. The next wave of seniors will be the baby boomers…It's a whole different group. We're all going to have to change in our offerings."

With that in mind, the health grant will help the JCC offer choices to participants, enabling them to adopt personalized exercise plans they can practice either at home or at the JCC's fitness center.

Participants will undergo a no-cost fitness evaluation and will receive free access to the fitness center between noon and 4 p.m. weekdays and anytime on weekends. They also will have free access to a senior exercise class and they can use the covered pool or attend a weekly aqua-arthritis class.

In addition, participants will be re-evaluated every six weeks by the JCC's fitness staff, according to Pamela Brown, exercise coordinator at the JCC's fitness center. They also will be invited to attend health lectures every two months at the center, which will serve as a clearinghouse for fitness classes and other activities throughout the community.

However, participants will not be required to work out regularly at the JCC's fitness center or become members. Instead, the goal is to establish a regimen that works for the individual.

"People who tend not to exercise usually are people who wouldn't want to join a fitness center and exercise in a group setting," said Ammons. Some would rather do something in their own neighborhoods or homes, or walk regularly with a friend. "We will help them formulate a program they can do at home. If they want to come here, they can. The water classes are wonderful."

For those who don't, there are other options, including walking groups.

"The program support available within this grant makes this effort a real win-win", said Judy Edelson, JCC executive diriector.

The state awarded grants to 15 institutions to develop programs targeting physically inactive seniors, according to Steve Hooker, program chief for physical activity and the health initiative with the state Department of Health Services. However, only two of the honorees — the JCC and a YMCA in Modesto — have fitness centers. The others are primarily associated with hospitals and health-care facilities.

"We really want to help seniors gain confidence and skills in being physically active — to improve their health and functional capacity," said Hooker. What makes the JCC unique is that it has "a fitness center that can help complement what this program is based upon."

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].