Program gears up to keep aging adults fit

by Don Wells
Staff writer

Following a 39-year absence, alumnus Ed Greathed attributes his return to UBC last year to a hiking accident.

"The muscles on my leg had atrophied and I had to learn to walk again," says Greathed, who was the first member of Changing Aging, a fitness program for older adults designed by UBC Campus Recreation and Fitness co-ordinator Sonya Lumholst-Smith.

The 62-year-old retired Ontario public servant was descending a trail on Mount Seymour in the spring of 1996 when he suffered a serious leg fracture. He was evacuated and flown home to Toronto where, following surgery, he was fitted with a hip-to-toe cast.

Almost completely immobilized, he spent 10 weeks in a convalescent hospital followed by 10 months in physiotherapy.

"I was in danger of losing my independence. That is what you worry about the most as you get older," he says.

A 1958 UBC Arts graduate, Greathed left Toronto in the summer of 1997 and moved into an apartment just outside the university gates.

He immediately began looking for an exercise facility to continue his recovery and learned about Lumholst-Smith's fledgling program.

"It was right there at the doorstep of my old alma mater," he says.

Last October, Greathed and 16 other like-minded community members, ranging in age from 48 to 84, began attending classes three times a week at the UBC Tennis Centre.

Now in its second year, the program has expanded to 128 participants in 19 different classes, all taught by dedicated UBC students.

The students have received advanced and highly specialized certification as trainers from experts in exercise physiology for older adults.

Changing Aging is an instructor-led, machine-based exercise system for older adults.

All the machines are medically approved. The load settings can be electronically adjusted without interruption and without heavy lifting or awkward movements that can be difficult for seniors.

Some of the machines are designed to minimize strain to the lower back, an important feature for those with impaired mobility or osteoporosis.

"The participants come to UBC to become students of their own physical health," says Lumholst-Smith.

The social aspect is also important, she says. Fear of isolation and loneliness is a motivating factor for many of the participants, all of whom wear nametags to encourage interaction with one another and the students.

Participants begin with a fitness assessment and an interview to determine personal goals. The results are sent to their physician.

Once their doctor has approved participation, personalized one-on-one training begins.

Each program has three components - aerobic exercise, strength training and stretching.

"They have to be taught how to load, how to push themselves," says Lumholst-Smith. "If they aren't pushing themselves, they won't improve."

Individual attention from trainers ensures that the workouts are demanding.

"The kids don't miss a thing, they really put their hearts into it," says Greathed. "They teach us and we teach them."

For more information or to register for Changing Aging, call 604-822-1677.