Confab to push exercise for seniors

About 100 people involved with older adults, health and recreation are to gather Wednesday to discuss ways of promoting outdoor physical activity among the region’s seniors, and Caren Glotfelty of the Allegheny County Parks Foundation already has one idea in mind.

Ms. Glotfelty, the foundation’s executive director, is developing plans for a website containing information about the county’s nine parks, including maps, trails, accessibility, events and particular programs or activities of interest to the county’s abundant older population.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation has provided funding to help Ms. Glotfelty’s group develop the website and a mobile app enhancing the information that encourages park use. The Jewish Healthcare Foundation hopes to spark other such innovations by bringing together a wide-ranging group of invitees this week from the fields of aging services, health care, government, recreation, senior housing and more.

Foundation president Karen Wolk Feinstein said the daylong “charrette” — a fancy word for a collaborative brainstorming session — is aimed at acting upon the growing body of research demonstrating that older adults who exercise accrue both mental and physical benefits. Some programs already exist to promote that physical activity, such as Silver Sneakers exercise classes, but Ms. Feinstein said plenty more can be done.

“The idea is our community has tremendous assets to build on,” she said. “We’re trying to get in the same room the many groups that are passionate about the wonderful connection between seniors, exercise and health. We want to get more programs going and make it easier for seniors to access and know about those programs.”

Allegheny County’s population remains among the oldest of any major metropolitan area, with 17.7 percent of its residents age 65 or older. A University of Pittsburgh study in 2014 classified 31.5 percent of them as obese and another 43.4 percent as overweight, based on body mass index. Both rates are higher than national averages for the age group.

Ms. Feinstein senses potential benefits from a focused discussion in which, say, medical experts and senior advocates identify goals to stimulate exercise, with public parks managers and private outdoors groups discussing ways to increase the opportunities. Older adults may have transportation and logistical challenges that aren’t taken into account, otherwise, in programs created for the general population.

Among various groups serving on an advisory panel for the Jewish Healthcare Foundation exercise promotion effort are Venture Outdoors, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, Allegheny County Health Department and Allegheny County Medical Society.

Ms. Glotfelty, who also participates in the advisory group, said older adults may lack awareness of recreational opportunities and need more encouragement than others to get out of the house and involved in exercise. She would be happy, as one step, to see the county’s park rangers increase their interaction with senior organizations, and she hopes to hear a variety of creative ideas put forward Wednesday.

While Ms. Feinstein’s foundation is convening the session and will organize the ideas stimulated by it on a website, she expects the many participating groups to take initiative on new strategies coming out of it that affect them.

She said the foundation has allocated at least $100,000 plus staff time to cover the costs of putting on the exercise charrette and subsequent ones to be held that are focused on the elderly, including how to increase geriatrics-influenced health care in the region and create new types of group living arrangements for older adults.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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