Active Aging Week, Oct. 1-7, was initiated by the International Council on Active Aging to promote and celebrate the positivity of aging today. It also challenges society’s diminished expectations of aging by showing that older adults can live full, rewarding lives regardless of age or health.
Kim Eichinger has the new title of Executive Director of Dynamic Living at Country Meadows Retirement Communities. She has been with us for 16 years, previously as Executive Director of Fitness. Kim got her start teaching exercise classes to pay her way through art school. Following her passion for exercise, she pursued professional fitness certification through the American Council on Exercise. Kim also has a degree in gerontology from Harrisburg Area Community College.
How did you get interested in teaching fitness to seniors?
My first job in fitness was teaching at a “figure salon” for women when I was just 17. For 12 years, I owned my own studio for group exercise programs. More and more retirees were participating, and I enjoyed working with them. The Cumberland County Office of Aging engaged me to teach fitness classes at county senior centers. I was impressed by the dedication of those older adults, who wanted to remain physically fit to continue enjoying their favorite activities. Like many people, my perceptions and stereotypes about getting older began to change.
What prompted you to accept a position in fitness at Country Meadows?
I wanted to use my skills for a company that would embrace innovation in encouraging seniors to pursue healthy, active senior living. Before Country Meadows hired certified fitness instructors, the activities staff taught exercise classes as another fun program. Now, it’s still fun, but we take it a bit more seriously and now have a dedicated, full-time fitness staff at each community. We see the benefit of fitness in reducing falls, increasing bone strength and improving posture. When you see a fitness instructor leading a class of devoted seniors, you realize how valuable that is for those residents.
Recently, Country Meadows adopted the name of Dynamic Living to encompass fitness and other activities. Why was that, and what is Dynamic Living?
“Dynamic” refers to constant change, movement and progress. The senior living industry itself is in constant change. A major force driving that change is baby boomers. As current and future residents, they’re making us look at new technology, programs and features in positive ways. So, our mindset is changing—we’re modifying our programming to create experiences for residents, rather than simply activities. We don’t want to just plan a schedule of half-hour programs that take place from 9 to 5.
With Dynamic Living, we’re expanding our focus on wellness by creating a culture of everyday opportunities to develop well-being and independence. We’re planning more robust and comprehensive activities, ones that touch on more than one aspect of wellness—physically engaging, but perhaps cognitively and spiritually, too.
“Class with a Glass” at one of our campuses is a perfect example. This is a yoga class where the chaplain plays a harp, incorporating meditation with movement and breath work. The class ends with a wine sampling, something you wouldn’t expect at a retirement community. This also brings together co-workers who wouldn’t normally interact—staff in community life, fitness, dining and chaplain services. They collaborate as a team to plan these programs for our residents.
Another campus planned a countryside ride for residents, but it wasn’t a traditional bus ride. The chaplain joined them and led them in singing hymns as they rode. This trip combined socialization in an outdoor setting with a spiritual experience as well. By blending different activities, we can touch multiple aspects of wellness within active senior living.
What’s the key to launching the new Dynamic Living program at Country Meadows’ individual campuses?
We encourage each campus to creatively develop activities that incorporate different aspects of wellness. The Dynamic Living staff at one campus planned a visit to an orchard, where residents walked and picked berries or apples. Then they returned home to cook a healthy dish, using those ingredients. This required both fine and gross motor skills and combined a social experience with an environmental one. It also gave them a sense of accomplishment and independence by replicating an experience they might have enjoyed prior to moving to Country Meadows.
What would we find fitness professionals doing at Country Meadows campuses?
Our campus fitness directors are certified to lead various classes. For example, Delay the Disease™ for people with Parkinson’s and SilverSneakers™ is for any active seniors who want to stay in shape. The fitness directors work closely with each campus director of Dynamic Living.
We give them the freedom to create unique experiences for residents on their campuses. The directors of Dynamic Living orchestrate the talents of multiple co-workers to plan activities that have physical, spiritual and cognitive benefits. Fitness instructors, therapists, activities staff and chaplains collaborate on programs that maximize residents’ abilities and promote active senior living.
The staff at one of our campuses has planned a program that requires the services of activities, fitness and dining co-workers. With “Travel to Wellness,” residents come together and decide on their “travel destination.” In one case, they chose Oregon, so working on their iPads, they researched and learned all about Oregon. They tracked their walking steps and, using a steps-per-mile formula, began “walking to Oregon.” The dining staff prepared foods indigenous to that area. Residents with family photos of the area shared them with their fellow walkers. The IT staff even got involved by supplying residents with goggles to virtually experience Mt. Hood. This experience incorporated physical, intellectual and even nutritional components of active senior living.
Besides their skills in teaching fitness, what other qualities do Country Meadows fitness co-workers have to succeed in their roles?
Our fitness professionals have a strong understanding of wellness. They are comfortable leading and speaking in front of groups and collaborating with team members. They have organizational and creative abilities and can adapt programs for residents who are less physically or cognitively able.
Our fitness directors also work with their colleagues in other areas to create opportunities for members of the local community to visit Country Meadows. That’s how we change the way seniors are perceived—by demonstrating that people can remain relevant and vital as they age.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I feel best when a resident does something that totally defies age in the way we normally think about it—when he or she busts a stereotype. That puts a big smile on my face and gives me a great sense of satisfaction.