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Keeping an Active Mind and Body

Fridays are television day at Greenspring Village. The residents of the Springfield retirement community aren't being encouraged to become couch potatoes, however. Instead, they are learning about nutrition or heart disease or skin care.

The in-house television station at Greenspring features a segment on Fridays that has health-care specialists talking about various topics, and the residents have an opportunity to call in with their questions. The program is also just one way the retirement community is reaching out to seniors about the concept of overall wellness, the idea of catering to the mind and body by creating a healthy lifestyle.

"It's diet and exercise and being educated," said Brad Hibbs, Greenspring's wellness manager. "When you do modify your lifestyle, you see an improvement, and it's never too late to improve."

THE PHILOSOPHY of wellness is a trend being adopted by retirement communities across Fairfax County. For some, that means opening a wellness center that provides physical activities, as well as space for health-care specialists to have office hours or an area devoted to educational information on a variety of subjects. At other retirement communities, the components of wellness are in place without having a designated center.

"The concept is long overdue," said Priscilla Kneisley, administrator at the Virginian Retirement Community in Fairfax. "The number of medications the residents are on, the loss of mobility and other factors can cause the seniors' morale to go down. There is a tremendous benefit to wellness."

She said the community has a space where medical specialists have office hours, and residents are given a schedule so they can make their appointments. For example, the first and third Wednesday of every month, a local dentist sees patients. The Virginian also has a dietitian, who will meet with the residents one-on-one. In addition, there is a exercise room and daily programs to keep the seniors active. One of the most popular activities at the retirement community is Tai Chi.

"I'm always surprised at how willing seniors are to try new things," Kneisley said.

"ANYBODY who works in the fitness industry realizes mental health ties in," said Steve Rohrback, director of fitness at Vinson Hall in McLean.

Vinson Hall recently opened a new fitness center, complete with exercise and cardiovascular equipment, and is awaiting the opening of a new pool that will be used for water aerobics as well as swimming. Residents are also educated about proper nutrition in order to be able to make healthier choices in their diets.

Rohrback said his goal is to make physical activities enjoyable for the residents or else they will not continue to be active.

"I've seen attitudes change just from being able to be mobile," Rohrback said. "When people feel good physically, they feel good mentally."

At Paul Spring Retirement Community in Mount Vernon, the wellness program is built into the other programs. About six months ago, the community opened a wellness center, which provides space for doctor's office hours as well as rehabilitative and exercise programs, massage therapy and chiropractic services.

"Health and fitness should be a part of everyone's routine," said Barbara Sullivan, Paul Spring's marketing director. "For seniors, it can be hard to get them active. [The center] is to keep all seniors physically fit and active and mentally healthy, encompass everything."

Sullivan said the community created the wellness center as an experiment, and it has proved to be popular among the residents.

THE APPROACH TO WELLNESS takes on a different form at Manchester Lakes in Kingstowne, where residents are treated to different lecturers, fitness instructors who visit twice a week, and a resource room that contains educational and informational materials on a wide range of topics, said Terri Cusick, sales director and activities director.

"We have an extensive activities calendar," Cusick said.

Back at Greenspring Village, the fitness center focuses primarily on physical activities, including exercise machines, a pool and a variety of classes, but the community also offers a number of ministries, social work services and educational programs through its Resident LIfe Department. There is also a medical center.

"Different departments specialize in different things," said Hibbs. "Lifestyle is taught independent of wellness."

He said a majority of the residents have never belonged to a gym or exercised beyond the hard work required for their careers, so a big part of wellness is teaching the seniors the benefits of being active.

"The more flexible you are, the better you feel," Hibbs said. "It's not limited to building big muscles. They see a difference it can make in their attitudes. There is a sense of accomplishment."