Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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Beyond the Board Games: Seniors Embracing More Ways to Get Physically and Mentally Fit

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Seniors are having a moment. As the U.S. population trends upward in age, the definition of what it means to be a “senior citizen” is shifting.

The image of a retiree lounging in a recliner all day, or needing a walker to get around, is an outdated stereotype. Today, there are many options available to area seniors to keep them engaged and healthy—both physically and mentally.

While seniors are living longer than ever – average U.S. life expectancy increased from 68 years in 1950 to 79 years in 2013 – they also have opportunities to live better, particularly in an area like Richmond, where fitness, cultural and outdoor opportunities are plentiful. The area has become a retirement destination, and because of its offerings, Bloomberg Business has ranked Richmond as their number two most affordable city in which to retire. With cultural attractions like art museums, opera, theater and ballet, Richmond has no shortage of activities—along with many parks and a rich history to explore.

Senior Centers Offer Gathering Spot, Diverse Courses

“We understand that isolation is not good for us,” says Carolyn Comerford, director of the Senior Center of Greater Richmond. “It’s detrimental to health and wellness. So we try to get the word out about all the programs we have available for seniors so they can stay active and explore interests.”

Many retirees find that, once relieved of the stress and time commitment of careers and raising families, they have an opportunity to explore long-held interests or develop new hobbies. Senior centers fill a need by helping older adults use their time constructively with a wide-range of offerings, from Tai Chi to art instruction to Spanish language classes. For a yearly membership fee, members gain access to many included programs, with some incurring an additional cost. While the fittest among the membership engage in more advanced fitness classes, there are fitness opportunities for all levels, including water aerobics and chair-based exercise.

There are just as many opportunities for mental stimulation—for example, at the Senior Center of Greater Richmond they have 180 activities every month at four different locations, which include things like a watercolor painting class and a photography club.

Higher Education Classes at Affordable Rates for Seniors

Another opportunity for seniors to learn and engage with the community is through Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Senior Citizens Higher Education Program. Under the program, anyone who is 60 years old and has been a Virginia citizen for one year before the beginning of the semester can qualify for free tuition. There are income restrictions on whether you can earn credit for the course, but all income levels can still qualify. Community colleges in the Richmond area, such as John Tyler Community College and Reynolds Community College, have similar free tuition programs.

There is another option for higher education in Virginia for seniors. Road Scholar is a worldwide network of educational opportunities for students who are at least 55 years old, though spouses and traveling companions may be younger. For a fee, a senior student receives room, board and challenging college-level liberal arts and humanities courses for three to six days. No prior academic experience is necessary and people from all backgrounds participate. The Virginia Center on Aging, with headquarters at VCU, sponsors nearly 40 Road Scholar programs per year at several sites in Virginia.

SilverSneakers Fitness Program Helps Keep Seniors Active at No Cost

SilverSneakers is a fitness program offered through participating health plans that gives seniors access to 13,000 gyms nationwide, plus social events, signature classes, and workout plans at no cost. The program is available around the country, and membership provides access to any participating gym location – including all amenities included with basic level access. Each location is outfitted with an advisor who will introduce you to the program and help get you started.

According to SilverSneakers, twice as many of its members report being in “excellent” or “very good” health compared to the national average.

To learn more about SilverSneakers, visit silversneakers.com.

Attention, Active Senior Citizens! Start here to get out, get involved and learn something new:

Senior Center of Greater Richmond

VCU’s Senior Citizens Higher Education Program

Road Scholar, locally through VCU