Jim Lockert is hoping to soon trade his wheelchair in for a cane.
It may seem like a lofty goal, but for Jim, a resident at Andrews of Stratford, it’s one he feels is within reach thanks to his regular exercise routine.
Jim, who lost his leg to gangrene in 2020 and now has an artificial leg, has relied on his wheelchair to get around for the past two years. However, since he started attending daily exercise classes offered at Andrews, he’s seen significant improvement in both his strength and balance.
“It’s helped me quite a bit,” he said. “The balance I’ve gained (over the past year) from these exercises has allowed me to walk with a walker. My goal is to walk with a cane.”
And while Jim’s case is an extreme one, he’s not alone in benefiting from regular exercise.
Sharon Woods-Bryenton, a program coordinator at Andrews Senior Care, said over the 14 years she’s offered exercises classes, she’s seen a number of seniors with varying mobility issues make positive changes just through regular exercise.
“It’s great when you see the progress,” Sharon said. “Strength, I find, is a big one that shows improvement from coming to class.”
Sharon trained as a senior fitness instructor through the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging at Western University and designed her program based on what she learned while in school. She’s shared her fitness plan with program coordinators at all Andrews homes, who are free to pick and choose what works best for their residents. Many of the exercises, be it yoga, tai chi or progressive relaxation training, are all designed to strengthen core muscles and improve balance.
“It’s really important in their senior years,” said Sharon. “If they can keep their strength, if they can keep their balance…it keeps them young.”
While Sharon said those with mobility issues have the most to gain from starting an exercise routine, it’s beneficial for everyone.
“It’s one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself,” she said. “It’s never too late to start.”
Anita Ayers, a resident at Andrews of Charlottetown, has been a regular at exercise classes held there.
“We have an exercise class called yoga,” she said. “I recommend that to anybody. You don’t have to be a senior. I always exercised and always walked, so when I did it first, I thought this is kindergarten stuff. When I was done, I was tired. You’re moving every one of your muscles in your body. It’s really an excellent program.”
But it’s not only about keeping physically fit. Sharon said exercise is a great way to stay mentally healthy.
“It’s great for their mental well-being,” she said. “You see a difference that way as well. They’re more positive, they’re happier.”
She added many residents use the time in class as a way to socialize, which is another benefit.
“Even before I start the class, they’re all chatting with each other,” she said. “It keeps them connected to the community here.”
Class sizes vary by home, but Sharon said she averages 30-45 people a day, split over multiple cohorts.
“I got a great response here,” she said. “If I have to cancel for any reason, they’re very upset.”
As for Jim, it’s become something he looks forward to.
“I miss them when we don’t have them,” he said, adding he tries to do as many classes as he can a week.
“There are not many exercises that are not my favourite,” he said. “They all do something good for my body.”