EDMOND — Using creative exercises to improve strength and balance, University of Central Oklahoma students are helping senior citizens avoid painful and often crippling falls.
“Since we are working with our older adults, the tai chi movements we teach focus on increasing balance through proper foot placement and good posture,” said UCO student Cody Sodowsky, 22. “Furthermore, the class really has provided us the opportunity to interact and learn from our participants about their own work experiences, history and life.”
Tai chi helps increase flexibility and has a unique cross-generational aspect, Sodowsky said after a class in Edmond.
It's not always possible for seniors “to find appropriate exercises that are safe and easy on the joints,” said Gwen Wright, owner of Ntouch Medical Massage and Spa in Edmond. The clinic offers free exercise classes to seniors that often are taught by students from UCO's Kinesiology Department.
“Likewise, it's not always easy for many graduating college students to find real-world situations to train for their careers before graduation,” Wright said. “Classes taught by graduating students offer an avenue for students to gain valuable training and interaction with citizens outside of the university in a business environment.”
Because tai chi puts minimal stress on the muscles and joints and is low impact, it's used by people who have health restrictions that limit other forms of exercise.
UCO students offer it as part of a healthy aging class.
Class member Ted Parrish, 67, said, “It started as a favor for the students, but after the first class, I realized it could be a tool to help restore my balance after I was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy,” a vision problem.
Linda Wiley also has attended the spring session.
“It has been a wonderful experience that goes way beyond the physical and mental benefits. It is an exercise that you can practice solo or in groups, and use indoors or outdoors.
“You can even practice the soothing mind-body concepts without performing the actual movements when you are in a stressful situation, such as a traffic jam or a tense work meeting, for instance,” Wiley said.
Falling not normal
Therapists say falling is not a normal part of aging.
“Fall prevention includes exercise, medication review, risk-factor reduction and home-safety modifications,” said Carolyn Craven, director of the Balance and Dizziness Clinic at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City.
She encourages seniors to build exercise into their daily routines. Balance can be improved with exercises that strengthen the ankle, knee and hip muscles, and there are effective treatments available for those who experience balance problems or dizziness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three adults older than 65 will experience a fall this year.
Fear of falling can cause limitations in daily functions and can lead to perceived restrictions in leisure and community life. The center has tests to improve balance. One helpful website is www.onbalance.com.
“For too long, we have promoted the idea that retirement and late life is about slowing down and sitting down,” said Melissa Powers, a professor in UCO's Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies.
Supervised weight training is at the forefront of Powers' classes, which serve 80 seniors at five sites in Oklahoma City and Edmond. Classes primarily are for seniors 75 and older who live independently. UCO students assist with the classes.
In tune with health
At Oklahoma City's Woodson Park Recreation Center, seniors are attuned to staying healthy as they age.
“I want to stay active as long as possible,” said Ruby Houchin, 82, who attends classes for help with arthritis, along with line dancing and Middle Eastern dancing. “Life is too wonderful to let only the young enjoy it.”
Woodson Park regular Betty Noblitt, 81, has a simple mantra: “Stay mobile, keep moving, be active.” She uses weight training and water aerobics to maintain muscle mass and bone density.
“We are learning about old age — what is normal and what is not,” said UCO student Devon Young, 21, of Edmond. “We are also learning about the behaviors and precautionary measures that can be taken to help extend life expectancy and improve quality of life among elders.”