New mobile wellness program brings fitness classes to seniors

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Lynn Robbin, fitness instructor for Wellness on Wheels, works with residents of Holly Tree Village on Southwest Murray Boulevard during a Tuesday morning exercise class. Robbin is one of two instructors in the new mobile fitness program.When Lynn Robbin pulls up to Holly Tree Village in a multicolored, fitness-themed van on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Gail Huddleston knows a group exercise session is not far behind.

Huddleston, 65, looks forward to joining about 14 of her fellow residents of the senior living complex on Southwest Murray Boulevard for Robbin’s twice-weekly sessions of chair-based total body workouts and Tai Chi, a popular group exercise based on Chinese martial arts. While the participants remain seated, their arms and legs are reaching, stretching and twisting as Robbin — using yellow foam balls and elastic bands as props — guides poses and encourages beneficial breathing patterns.

“She does an excellent job,” Huddleston says of Robbin in her distinct Texas drawl. “If I had known it would keep you feeling this young, I’d have done it a lot sooner.”

It’s that kind of enthusiasm that Linda Jo Enger hoped to generate when she and her colleagues at the Elsie Stuhr Center on Southwest Hall Boulevard conceived Wellness on Wheels. Symbolized by the van carrying weights, balls and other accessories to fuel classes, W.O.W. is designed to bring fitness classes to seniors who have little or no access to group exercise programs.

While geared toward adults “55 and better” looking to start or resume a neglected fitness regimen, the program accommodates a range of fitness levels from “chair fitness” to the advanced or “athlete” level.

“I was looking at making sure seniors were being served outside this building,” said Enger, supervisor at the Elsie Stuhr Center for seniors at 5550 S.W. Hall Blvd. “I only have the idea, and my staff continues it and sees it to fruition.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A participant in the Wellness on Wheels mobile fitness program at Holly Tree Village works on her upper body strength using a yellow foam ball the program, based at the Elsie Stuhr Center for seniors, provides.

Moving on

Enger worked with Ann Satterfield, the Stuhr Center’s health and wellness program coordinator, on a business plan for the program, which launched in January. Funding for the van, equipment and part-time salaries for instructors Robbin and Mignon Hamlin comes through a hybrid of park district resources, grants from the Oregon Research Institute and donations from seniors in the district.

“The unique thing about this program is, while we did get operational money for it, our seniors paid for more than half of the van,” Enger says. “We got support not only from the park district, but from the people in this building. It shows fitness is important not only to their lives, but to the community.”

As more grants and funding sources become available, the goal is to gradually expand W.O.W. services to a variety of facilities and locations within park district boundaries. For now — with Robbin or Hamlin behind the wheel — the van heads out to Holly Tree Village and Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Aloha for four sessions a week. In addition to an eight-form version of Tai Chi the Oregon Research Institute determined can substantially decrease the risk of falls, classes include Ageless Conditioning and Total Body Workouts. The former combines aerobics, muscle strengthening, flexibility and joint range mobility moves, while the latter utilizes hand and leg weights and resistance training with bands.

A relative newbie to fitness instruction, Robbin had previously volunteered her services and in January completed an internship at Portland Community College.

“Part of my motivation for looking into senior fitness was watching older relatives decline who did not exercise,” she says. “I’ve always been involved in sports myself, so this seemed like a good thing to do. It’s a new chapter to find ways to help seniors keep moving.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Lynn Robbin, fitness instructor for Wellness on Wheels, loads the W.O.W. van with exercise equipment she uses in classes at Holly Tree Village and Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Aloha.

Growing stronger

Instructors administer the Senior Fitness Test to participants, gauging — in addition to weight, height and body mass index — their agility, strength and overall fitness through tests involving standing from a chair, one-arm curls, stepping and stretching.

“It’s nationally recognized,” Satterfield says. “We use certain criteria that help seniors age gracefully. That is our goal, to help people age gracefully.”

The program, she notes, is a logical extension of the wildly popular facilities and classes available at the Stuhr Center.

“We have 99 classes here a week,” she says. “We’re outgrowing our center. Taking (classes) out in the community is the next step. That we’re being able to take them into the community is really exciting.”

Robbin finds the seniors she works with are always glad to see her and are open-minded about their fitness routines.

“I think they’re really happy to have an exercise class at their residence,” she says. “Those who come regularly, when they can’t make it because of a doctor’s appointment or something always say they’re disappointed because they’d rather be (at class).”

Virginia Houston, who’s lived at Holly Tree Village for three years, finds the fitness house calls in line with doctor’s orders.

“My heart specialist told me I needed exercise,” the 74-year-old says. “Now there’s no excuse about getting caught in the rain or whatever. I just go down the hall.”

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