Ideas pour forth about older adults' outdoor exercise potential

How could older adults be coaxed into more outdoor exercise around the region to benefit their health?

It’s a question for which those supporting that goal offered a number of potential answers Wednesday morning, among them:

• Create a phone service through which the person answering would identify both the closest exercise-recreational sites to the caller and a coach able to give them some personal guidance about a fitness routine suited to their level.

• Put more information about suitable recreational programs into the hands of physicians, clergy and others whom seniors interact with regularly so those trusted individuals can help spread word of the options. 

• Encourage intergenerational activities in which older adults exercise side by side with young people, maybe even their grandchildren, because people may not like the stigma connected to programs designed “just for old people.”

• Involve local casinos in some kind of exercise/health campaign, since that’s where so many seniors flock during the day.

The latter idea was one that drew actual applause, in addition to a few chuckles, at a discussion sponsored by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation in launching a new effort to create a culture of health and exercise involving the disproportionately large elderly community in southwestern Pennsylvania. The effort was described in an Aging Edge story Monday.

About 50 people from various government, health, educational and recreational organizations attended a wide-open idea-fest held in the morning at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and a separate group of invitees was to gather for the same purpose in late afternoon. The aim, said the foundation’s officials, was to start an idea exchange that would become more solid through a shared website and then lead to actual initiatives carried out in the city, county and region.

Jewish Healthcare Foundation president Karen Wolk Feinstein compared the fledgling effort to how initial, scattered, rails-to-trails efforts ultimately succeeded in creating a highly acclaimed Pittsburgh-to-Washington, D.C. regional bicycle route. She advised participants not to worry for now about the potential cost of their proposals.

“If you have a great idea, you will get funded,” she assured.

Dr. Terence Starz, a UPMC rheumatologist, was struck by descriptions of wide-ranging recreational opportunities organized by the private Venture Outdoors group, which he said he wished doctors like him knew more about to recommend to patients.

“It’s embarrassing how little I, as a medical professional, know about all these programs going on,” he acknowledged.

Steven Albert, a University of Pittsburgh professor of behavioral and community health sciences, noted that too few seniors make use of an initial wellness visit they are allowed upon admission to the Medicare program. If more were prompted to do so and physicians were armed at that time with the right information, he said, “it would be a great opportunity to make patients aware of exercise opportunities.”

Transportation difficulties for the older population were noted, and it was mentioned that people don’t necessarily want to be scolded about exercise no matter how many studies show long-term benefits for mental health as well as the body. On the other hand, a participant suggested, they might be likely to do it if it were promoted as, “I want to be able to keep up with my grandchildren,”

There’s no telling what, if anything, comes of ideas for new marketing efforts, collaborations, programs, communications or information systems aimed at increased physical activity. It seemed clear Wednesday, at least, that plenty of people are willing to talk about it, as a start.

Upcoming Events in Aging

The Allegheny County Area Aging on Aging is providing a free education series for family caregivers on Wednesday mornings from Sept. 7 through Oct. 12 at its South Side office, 2100 Wharton St. Advance registration is required by calling 412-350-4996.

The Pennsylvania Senior Environment Corps is expanding into Allegheny County, looking for volunteers 55 and older interested in working outdoors on issues such as monitoring water quality. A training session is planned on Sept. 21. To register or obtain more information, call Melinda Hughes at 814-765-1453, ext. 203.



Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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