With Stay on Your Feet classes back in full swing, seniors in the East Parry Sound Community Support Services area are once again benefiting from staying active.
The classes in Callander, South River, Sundridge, Burk's Falls and Port Loring came to a full stop when the province went into lockdown mode in mid-March because of the coronavirus.
Classes returned as lockdown restrictions began to ease up mid summer, but not indoors.
Program co-ordinator Leslie Price says the decision was to first hold the classes outdoors to see how the participants would react.
The outdoor settings made it easier to maintain social distancing plus the seniors didn't come into contact with any objects, such as handling doorknobs when heading into a building.
“We weren't sure how the outdoor classes were going to fly, but the attendance was quite good,” says Price, adding the classes later moved indoors as the weather cooled.
And that's where the seniors now meet once a week in the five communities.
The seniors in each participating community meet once a week for the free classes, and Price says their numbers vary from 10 to 25 at each location.
The program has several benefits, not the least of which is helping seniors remain active and being in a social environment, she says.
However, the program has a larger and more important objective.
“The big picture is to prevent falls and prevent people from ending up in the hospital,” Price explains.
“If they fall and break a hip, they may end up in long-term care after that because they can't go back home.”
Price says it costs little to run the Stay on Your Feet program and she believes it helps save health-care dollars in the long run.
If seniors have good balance, which the program helps them achieve, they're less likely to fall and less likely to be hospitalized by an injury, Price explains.
“It can cost money to be in a hospital,” she says. “Afterwards, if you go back home, you'll probably need a personal support worker while recovering from a fall.
“But if there's a way to be proactive and prevent a fall in the first place and if part of that is these classes, that's great.”
Some historic figures support Price's belief.
In 2009, Canadians involved in a fall that required hospitalization accounted for about $2 billion in health-care dollars, says Taylor Matson, the community health promoter at the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit.
Nearly half of the people involved in falls were older adults.
“It's important for older adults to stay active in order to maintain their ability to live independently in the community,” Matson says. “We focus on maintaining that physical activity so they can improve flexibility, balance and muscle strength.
“We also promote staying social, so building those relationships and improving the individual's mental health helps.”
Price agrees the classes help with relationship building among the seniors.
The Stay on Your Feet program takes little money to operate.
Price says the classes take place at the various locations thanks to the generosity of several groups, such as legion branches, that donate their hall once a week or a municipality that can make a centre available for the seniors.
The only money that's paid out, she says, buys props such as yoga mats, hand weights and exercise bands, which are not being used at this time because of COVID-19.
There also is a small amount paid to instructors who, in this instance, are yoga teachers.
But Price emphasizes that Stay on Your Feet has nothing to do with yoga.
“The instructors need to have a lot of anatomy knowledge,” she explains.
“A big part of yoga is knowing how muscles, bones and balance work.”
Price says the yoga instructors are able to guide the seniors in how to move and adds “the instructor can also modify (moves) for each person.”
Price says the program's results can be astonishing.
She has scores of testimonials from participants and says in one case an individual had to lean against a wall for decades to put on their pants because of poor balance. But after joining the classes, “they don't have to do that anymore.”
Another individual regained flexibility in their neck, making it easier to drive.
This same person says their leg cramps have decreased as a result of taking the Stay on Your Feet classes, and plans to keep taking them.
The testimonials go on, with participants praising the instructors, adding they are happy the classes are being offered and hope they continue for a long time to come.
Although the testimonials are from seniors who experienced one problem or another, Price says she doesn't want potential participants to decide against taking the classes thinking they're designed only for frail seniors.
She encourages young and older seniors to think about taking the classes because the goal is to improve your balance and prevent falls.
A goal for Price in the near future is to introduce the classes in Powassan.
She almost had them started earlier this year, but the onset of COVID-19 nixed the plan.
However, she's confident it's just a matter of time before older Powassan residents can be part of the Stay on Your Feet program.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget