Wii can help

We all know that exercise is good for us, not just for keeping in shape but for good functioning of all the systems in our bodies, including the brain. When we get older and joints are stiffer, or even painful, everything takes more effort. But it’s not the time to slow down or to stop crucial physical activity.

Getting or staying fit is challenging for older folks who may not want to go out and walk because they feel frail or fearful of crime or slippery streets or other hazards. All kinds of things conspire against keeping them as fit as they’d like. They may feel out of place at the gym, and other activities they might have enjoyed may be out of reach for them. They may lack transportation. They may tire easily. All kinds of things conspire against keeping them as fit as they’d like.

Enter the video game.

Video game? Yes, seniors who can be convinced to take advantage of these innovations can use them to improve balance, flexibility, muscle strength, mood and brain functioning. The Nintendo Wii system uses sensors inside controllers and a video sensor on top of the system’s video monitor to allow games to be controlled by bodily motion, as opposed to the traditional joystick and buttons. A league of senior citizens playing Wii bowling may not burn a lot of calories, but the participants are doing something they love that is good for their bodies.

In the Woodland Pond retirement community in New Paltz, residents from their sixties through their nineties are doing a variety of activities in structured Wii classes. “We are constantly looking for new and better workout solutions to offer our residents,” said Mary Jo Murray, the community’s wellness nurse. “The Wii classes engage them visually, and they enjoy the variety of music that goes with the games.”

Wii tennis, golf and dance are on the schedule, too. “These classes are different because they allow you to be competitive, which spices up the workout,” said Louise Mandy, a Woodland Pond resident.

Gentle exercise

The Wii-based activities boost motivation, inspiring older people to get out of their chairs and have fun. More and more retirement homes around the country are adding this inexpensive feature. Seniors who may have given up bowling or golf can take it up again in their cozy home. Less strenuous and taxing on the body, Wii provides a gentle way to exercise that retains all of exercise’s benefits. And it’s social as well.

Playing the games can make people feel young at heart. Playing Wii, whether alone at home or in a residential center, can help reduce depression, improve mobility and balance, and lessen falls. It can increase mental sharpness and memory, plus providing the novelty of something new gives the brain a boost. It helps hand-eye coordination, reflexes and attention skills. The added social interaction is good for cognitive function as well.

Wii comes with a sports package that includes bowling, baseball, boxing, tennis and golf. Wii Sports Resort adds swordplay, wakeboarding, Frisbee, archery, basketball, ping-pong, power cruising, canoeing, cycling and skydiving. So anyone who may have previously enjoyed any of these activities can re-live some of the movements and some of the fun involved in doing them. Wii Fit Plus adds yoga and strength training. Big Brain Academy provides competitive games involving memory, quick thinking, numbers and visual recognition.

One component of Wii is a balance board seniors can stand on to test their center of balance and percentage of body weight. Just a few extra minutes of exercise a day adds benefit.

Various exercise classes

Besides the Wii classes, Woodland Pond residents can do water aerobics, water walking, strength, dance movement, yoga, chi kung and sit and fit. They can also go for strolls in New Paltz. The Walkway Over the Hudson is another destination.

“All movement has positive effects that we can benefit from,” said Murray. “You may not be able to run, but if you can walk even just a distance around your home, that helps with circulation and sleep.”

Seniors who are not a resident of such a facility can take exercise classes especially geared toward their needs. IXL in Saugerties offers classes that are free with membership. Silver Sneakers, held on Mondays at 3:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 11 a.m., is for older adults who want to improve their strength, flexibility, balance and endurance. There is a Silver Sneakers yoga stretch class on Fridays at 11 a.m.

The Rhinebeck branch of the fitness center offers a senior fitness class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11 a.m. which involves a low-impact aerobic class that begins with a gradual warm-up and leads into varying strengthening exercises followed by an aerobic conditioning segment. In Rhinebeck, Silver Sneakers is on Tuesdays at 3:30 p.m. and Thursdays at 1:15 p.m.

Woodland Pond is at 100 Woodland Pond Circle in New Paltz. Call 877-505-9800 or go to wpatnp.org. Find the Saugerties IXL at 3139 Route 9W or by calling 246-6700. The Rhinebeck IXL is at 3752 Route 9G or 876-4100. Find information on either at www.ixlhealthandfitness.com

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