A group of senior citizens do stretching exercises as they watch a video at the Campbell County Senior Center in Highland Heights. While they work out in a small room, that will change when the 2,000-square-foot Fitness/Wellness Center is added this fall.

LEW MOORES / ChallengerNKY.com photo

Seniors-Only Fitness / Wellness Center Shaping Up

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS – Cass Sterritt had just finished her exercise class, a series of stretching motions that in an hour brought a sheen to her brow.

"It was a good workout," Ms. Sterritt, who is 78 and lives in Covington, said as she left the Campbell County Senior Center exercise room, a room without much of a view and where more than a half-dozen seniors kept pace with an exercise video. "But you tend to watch the clock. I'd like to have windows to look out." She laughs and adds, "You can look out the windows and forget the pain."

That will change by the end of the year. Ground has been broken at the center for a Fitness/Wellness Center addition. What is now a mud pit will take form as a 2,000-square-foot addition that will be the first of its kind in all of Kentucky – a wellness center attached to a senior center dedicated exclusively for use by seniors.

"There are other wellness centers, but there is nothing attached to a senior center," said Pat Dressman, director of Campbell County Department for Human Services, which oversees the senior center. "This is the first."

People like Ms. Sterritt and Terry Grosser, 74, of Fort Thomas, look forward to November, when the addition is expected to be completed. It will offer treadmills, recumbent bikes, weights and classes, and overlook a quiet pond where Pekin ducks and mallards glide across the surface and graze at pond edges.

The wellness addition is being built with a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the commonwealth of Kentucky to the city of Highland Heights (which formally applied for the grant), in partnership with Campbell County Fiscal Court. The Northern Kentucky Independent Health District will provide a $40,000 grant match, and $14,000 is coming from the Greater Cincinnati Health Foundation.

"I feel better coming here," said Ms. Grosser of the current exercise room. "My theory is to keep moving. I can tell the difference when I don't make it to a class. There's a lot of talk (about the addition). Most of the talk has been about the space."

"You need the camaraderie," Ms. Sterritt adds. "The friendship there is with everybody in the same boat."

Increased Fitness, Reduced Health Care Costs

There is sound logic beyond the amenity. Ms. Dressman says getting seniors involved in fitness programs reduces health care costs associated with injuries and illnesses. There are psychological as well as physical benefits.

"In the year 2006 a Baby Boomer will turn 60 years of age every 7 seconds," explains Ms. Dressman. "So what do we need to do to keep these people in good shape? What do we need to do to stop the deterioration of health problems that are putting a burden on everybody? That was kind of the whole idea behind this. We know that if we can keep people healthier, keep them in pretty good physical shape, this will reduce their costs, reduce state costs, reduce the entire federal costs."

Marsha Dufeck, manager of the senior center, said they serve about 140 seniors. In addition to exercise, programs and activities include craft classes, pinochle, bridge, dancing, bingo, listening to music and trips.

"They don't have to be from Campbell County," she said of those eligible to use the center. "We've had phone calls from people who don't come to the center wanting to know when it's going to be completed. So there's tons of folks interested out in the community."

Seniors served are 60 and older. The senior center is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. There will be no fee for those using the wellness center, unless it's for a specialized activity, like a massage.

About 20 seniors participated in a trial run at Northern Kentucky University on how fitness programs would work once the addition is built. The seniors worked out under the guidance of NKU students majoring in studies related to health and fitness. The program lasted from last fall to this spring.

"We had folks from 60 years of age up into their 90s," said Ms. Dressman. "We had folks who were recuperating from strokes to folks who just wanted to stay healthy. What happened as a result, a lot of their balance came back, their overall outlook changed. They were feeling good about themselves."

She expects the number to easily double from the NKU program.

"I would easily say 50 seniors," she said.

Lou Hayes is 77 and lives in Highland Heights. Three times a week, she steps onto the treadmill at the center and heads across an imagined landscape.

"We all talk about it," said Ms. Hayes of the new addition. "Exercise makes you feel good after you're done. You feel real relaxed. It's good for your breathing. I know quite a few will use it."


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