Clutching the back of a chair, 77-year-old Lee Roach stretched and lifted her right leg in unison with six other seniors circled around their desks at The Colonnade as part of the ongoing health and wellness benefits offered to Sun Health at Home’s members.
“This exercise improves strength, range of motion and balance,” Sun Health’s exercise physiologist and certified health coach Rhonda Zonoozi tells the class during the session.
Lee and the others were taking part in A Matter of Balance, an eight-session structured group class designed to help participants increase their activity level and reduce the risk of falling. While A Matter of Balance is offered to the greater community by the Sun Health Center for Health & Wellbeing, this particular class was offered as a members-only benefit for Sun Health at Home’s 26 members.
“The class is designed to reduce the fear of falling and to increase activity levels in the older adult population,” Rhonda says. “This is one way to make changes and reduce the risk of falling.”
Launched in 2016, Sun Health At Home is the first continuing care at home program in the Southwest and is designed to help seniors age safely and healthily in their homes.
As part of the program, members are assigned a personal wellness coordinator to provide personalized support and help navigate the health care system. In addition, members receive access to many complimentary services designed to improve their health and maintain independence. These include nutritional counseling, personal health coaching, medication reviews and personal fitness plan development. Members can also partake in exercise classes such as tai chi or yoga, or educational classes on subjects like brain health and fall prevention.
Once enrolled, Sun Health Registered Dietitian Susan Welter consults with members about making healthy changes to their diets.
“It’s individual to each person,” says Susan, also a certified diabetes educator. “Whether it’s a health issue or something else, we help them plan sensible food choices.”
Lee says she wasn’t physically active when she was younger. As a child she contracted rheumatic fever and developed heart murmurs, leading doctors to fear too much exertion could result in a heart attack.
“I never exercised in my life,” she says. “I was never allowed to have a gym class because of my heart.”
After developing diabetes and on the advice of her doctor, Lee joined a gym and hired a personal trainer. Since signing up for the Sun Health at Home, she has also been a regular at the Center for Health & Wellbeing’s physical fitness classes.
“I feel good. I’m building strength,” she says. “I’m in better health now than I was when I was in high school.”
Surprise residents Sue and Gerald Schreiber were among the first to sign up for Sun Health at Home. Based on the recommendations of their wellness coordinator, they recently installed hand-bars in their shower and taller toilets in both bathrooms.
“We try and take advantage of all the programs,” says Sue, 81.
After Gerald experienced a few significant falls in the past couple of years, both he and his wife enrolled in the class.
“One time I was in a hurry and cut across this parking lot and although it was reasonably well-lit, I didn’t notice a small step going onto the walkway,” says Gerald, 83. “I missed that little step and I dropped with my car keys in my hand. I skinned up one knee and elbow, but there was no serious damage.”
Since enrolling in the A Matter of Balance class, Gerald says he has noticed a difference.
“I’m not falling down anymore,” he says with a smile.
Both he and his wife also started wearing an electronic activity tracker and walk regularly.
“We try to do at least 2 miles a day,” Sue says.
Seeing participants’ results, like the Schreibers, is the rewarding part for Rhonda.
“Healthy eating and staying active are two doable things for overall health that can make a difference at any age,” she says. “It’s never too late to get started making some good changes in those areas.”
As for Lee, she says she has no plans of slowing down. Learning to exercise has helped improve her energy, balance and health.
“My first great grandchild was recently born,” she says. “I want to be strong and healthy enough to see him grow up.”