What are the things we gain when we lose?
By Sam Noyek
Back in November 2019, I wrote my first blog for the School of Rehabilitation Therapy – ‘RHBS PhD student finds a new team leading local seniors exercise group’. Within this blog, I shared the story about an amazing opportunity I had teaching a seniors exercise class at a local residential apartment building in Kingston. Through the exercise classes, I was able to support participants to better integrate within their communities, form a supportive social network, and increase their physical exercise engagement. While out for a run in March, I passed the local residential apartment building and found myself thinking of ways that I could continue to facilitate the exercise class, but could it be done in a virtual capacity?
COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on the lives of seniors living in residential buildings. Many residents rarely leave their unit. Weekly social gatherings and ‘Trivia Nights’ within the common rooms have ceased. Elevators are no longer a place for chit-chat about appointments or family gatherings. Enjoyable outdoor walks have been eliminated unless residents have dogs that need to be let out. Further, many of the residents are facing these social and physical realities alone. I had hoped that transitioning our class to an online format could provide an escape both mentally and physically from the current restricted conditions.
I launched my first online seniors fitness class in April using Zoom. My first class had five participants, included my Mom who had the task of confirming my audio and video worked. In the lead up to the class, I offered participants coaching on accessing emails and using the video conference technology. The first class brought upon new challenges. Introductory conversations were pleasant; however, the energy of being in a room with others, smiling, and laughing about weekly events was obviously missing. As the weeks passed, we tweaked our approach: the laptop audio was preferred for music, we designated chatting for pre/post class, and participants were muted during exercises.
Each week more participants joined, and our virtual team began to grow. As an instructor, I became more comfortable with the technology and how it could bring this community together. Each new smile that joined the group motivated me to expand our team. After a month adjusting to the new Zoom format, I reached out to seniors outside of our Kingston team. One of the benefits to teaching virtually is the opportunity to increase participation outside of the physical walls of the residential building. We now have a presence in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. By request, I began to offer my class twice a week.
Our pre-class chats remain an integral part of this online exercise comminity. We each take time to discuss what has changed in our lives, sharing stories or little moments that have impacted our week. We always end each class with a virtual high-five. I am beyond grateful for our team, and what they have taught me. This class has become a constant event each week for members of the team; empowering a sense of control in our lives when so much has changed. We are all able to stay both mentally and physically fit by coming together and exercising through Zoom.
I will be continuing to facilitate senior’s classes online past the COVID pandemic and quarantine. The importance of reaching our global virtual community will remain and my passion to impact the physical and social lives of seniors continues to grow. Please let me know directly if you have any friends or family that would want to join. Our classes are friendly, fun, and full of ABBA music. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Keep moving and keep smiling.