November 30, 2004

Getting in Step With Seniors ; Winter Exercise Sites Sought for Aging Residents

THREE RIVERS -- The woman in charge of serving nutritious meals to hundreds of St. Joseph County senior citizens is developing a new program to help them shape up and stay active.

Cindy Smagala, nutrition director for the St. Joseph County Commission on Aging, is looking for sites in area churches, schools and community buildings that will allow senior citizens to walk for free indoors this winter.

The exercise program, called "You Can! Steps to Healthier Aging" is being touted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Aging. The national campaign is designed to increase the number of older Americans who are active and healthy by improving their eating habits and "moving more."

Smagala wants to establish an indoor walking program countywide at locations where senior citizens can go at no charge to put in a few laps around meeting rooms or gymnasiums.

"We're not looking for places that have special exercise equipment," she explained. "We just want to find some places that are willing to be open an hour or two a day so senior citizens can come in and walk."

According to Smagala, the Doyle Community Center in Sturgis currently allows seniors to walk on the facility's indoor track without purchasing a membership.

"We know that exercising three times a week can be a real benefit," Smagala said. "We think this is a goal most people can reach. But in Michigan this time of the year, it's hard to get out and walk."

"People who make better nutrition choices and are physically active on a regular basis are more able to do the activities of daily life and continue to live on their own longer," a DHHS release explains. "Also, adopting better eating habits and a program of regular moderate activity is easier than many older Americans think."

Schools, churches or community organizations interested in offering winter walking hours for the COA's You Can! program should contact Smagala at (269) 279-8083 or (800) 641-9899.