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The EnhanceFitness class at Many Waters Wellness Center.

In response to the shocking numbers of seniors injured and killed by falls, a free EnhanceFitness class is being offered at Many Waters Wellness Center, 820 Sprague Ave.

Statistics from 2015 show Walla Walla County had 1577 hospitalizations for injuries to people aged 65 and older and in 2017 there were 112 fall related deaths in that age group.

For concerned seniors and their loved ones, preventing falls is imperative. A new class, EnhanceFitness, is starting and more classes are in preparation to help area seniors with fall prevention. Often, it’s hard to get started or you’re afraid to look foolish in a class with others who may be in better physical condition than yourself. 

The class for those age 60 and older started August 5, but you can still register, as long as there is room. Other classes will start in September. These sessions will have students of all different ability levels. Classes are designed as arthritis-friendly group exercises that work together to form a fall prevention program, helping older adults at all levels of fitness become more active, energized and empowered to sustain independent lives.

Instructor Laura Nichols said the class is fun with a relaxed atmosphere and humor. “EnhanceFitness focuses on dynamic cardiovascular exercise, strength training, balance, and flexibility — everything older adults need to maintain health and function as they age,” she said. Participants can stand or exercise from chairs. “Any body of any shape can improve,” Nichols said.

“I think it’s a program needed in this community for so long. I certainly believe in prevention,” Nichols said. “The healthier we are, the healthier we stay. Anybody of any shape can improve. It’s practical,” it’s preventive, she said.

According to Nichols, in a typical class, participants will experience:

A certified instructor with special training in bringing out the physical best from older adults.

A 5-minute warm-up to get blood flowing to the muscles, then a 20-minute aerobic workout that gets participants moving.

Following is a 5-minute cool-down, then a 20-minute strength training workout with soft cuff weights on the arms and legs as appropriate.

After that is a 10-minute flexibility routine to keep the muscles flexible. 

“We also practice mindfulness, being in the present, starting and stopping, walk forward then walk backward,” she said. Another practical exercise is to take a big step to the side. This gives you more awareness and flexibility if you encounter obstacles, like the dog suddenly being under foot.

Throughout the class are dynamic and static balance exercises as well as opportunities for participants to make new friends and acquaintances.

Each class may include up to 25 participants, from the frail to the more fit adult.

According to Nichols, EnhanceFitness is a community-based, physical-activity program that has demonstrated physical, social and emotional benefits for people living with chronic conditions. Studies have shown the program is associated with a reduced risk of falls. 

In 2017, EnhanceFitness was reviewed and received federal designation as a Fall Prevention program. The program addresses fall risk factors such as strength and flexibility, depression and social function, and overall physical activity, meeting recommended levels of weekly physical activity.

According to Nichols, a person can improve their balance and strength. “A physically active lifestyle can help preserve physical health and function or restore it. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and help manage or treat conditions. 

The 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, describes the health benefits of regular exercise and the evidence that supports them. The report also reaffirms the health risks of inactivity — a message that underscores the importance of active aging,” she said.

The response from participants has overwhelmingly been positive. 

“EnhanceFitness is available at over 800 sites in 44 states. 97% of participants say they would recommend EnhanceFitness to a friend,” Nichols said.

More classes will be available soon. Melissa Lambert will teach EnhanceFitness classes, Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the Walla Walla Senior Center, 7:30-8:30 a.m. and at SonBridge Community Center in College Place, 9:30-10:30 a.m., both start on Sept. 9.

There may be a possible third location in Walla Walla as well as a location in Waitsburg.

But is it difficult?

“Our mantra is ‘Go at Your Own Pace.’ Just keep showing up and you’ll feel better,” Nichols said. “We measure your progress for you through regular fitness assessments.”

People of any age can get better and improve their physical fitness and health.

Nichols describes the class as improving physical function, decreasing depression, protecting against falls and injury, providing social interaction, promoting an active lifestyle, reducing medical care utilization costs, decreasing unplanned hospitalizations and decreasing mortality rates.

This is another step in her journey as a teacher. 

“This will be my first time teaching the EnhanceFitness program, though I have been teaching Tai Chi for Health for over five years and most of my students are seniors. Both Tai Chi for Health and EnhanceFitness are evidenced-based fall prevention programs, accessible to anyone, regardless of physical condition and can be done either sitting or standing,” she said.

The timing of this class is perfect and needed in the local area with the aging population and fall risk in the elderly.

“While I don’t know the exact numbers and statistics offhand, Aging and Long Term Care and the Department of Health have been given this grant to bring EnhanceFitness to Walla Walla due in part to the disproportional and increased risk of falls in our area. This is the number one area for falls in Washington state,” Nichols said. “The class is fun and participants feel better. When we feel better, we do more. It is a virtuous cycle. This can really improve the quality of people’s lives.” 

Contact Laura Nichols, Certified EnhanceFitness Instructor, Certified Tai Chi Instructor, at 509-956-9056, or by emailing LauraNicholsW3@gmail.com

Contact Melissa Lambert, M.S., board-certified health and wellness coach, certified clinical exercise physiologist and personal trainer, exercise is medicine level 3, by calling at 509-540-2940 or emailing peaknorthwest.com or EF@peaknorthwest.com.

Karlene Ponti can be reached at karleneponti@wwub.com or 526-8324.

Karlene Ponti can be reached at karleneponti@wwub.com or 509-526-8324.

Karlene Ponti began as Special Publications Writer in 1999, work includes Lifestyles, The Weekly and Business Monthly. After Wa-Hi, Ponti attended Whitman and is a UW graduate. Later she was ordained a Christian minister at CDM Spiritual Teaching Center.

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