Senior fitness: fitness is a vital part of Sun City Huntley in Illinois, an age-restricted community which offers an abundance of facilities to keep mind and bodyfit – National Programs: Fitness and Active Lifestyles

Senior fitness: fitness is a vital part of Sun City Huntley in Illinois, an age-restricted community which offers an abundance of facilities to keep mind and bodyfit – National Programs: Fitness and Active Lifestyles – Cover Story

Beth Bales

A 71-year-old has won two International Triathlon Union world championships in her age division. A 73-year-old took up the sport after she retired. When Jack Nicklaus won The Tradition golf tournament in 1996, at age 56, he became the first player in Senior Tour history to win the same tournament four times.

In short, “senior” is not synonymous with “sedentary.” Today’s older adults are more physically active than ever before.

Thus, fitness is a vital part of Sun City Huntley in Illinois, an age-restricted community in northwest suburban Chicago which offers an abundance of facilities to keep mind and body fit.

More than 6,000 homes are projected to be built at the 2,155-acre community, where at least one person per household must be 55 years old or older. Del Webb Corp. is developing Sun City Huntley, one of eight Del Webb active adult retirement communities nationwide and the company’s first four-season community.

At Sun City Huntley, on-site recreational/fitness amenities include:

* Both an indoor and an outdoor, handicapped-accessible swimming pools.

* An elevated, glass-enclosed running/walking track overlooking both pools.

* The Prairie Lodge Fitness Center, with cardiovascular equipment such as treadmills, recumbent bicycles and crosstrainers; and weight-training resistance equipment, all integrated with a computerized interactive fitness network; and a free weight area.

* An exercise studio, offering fitness classes that run the gamut from low-impact aerobics to tai chi to yoga.

* Table tennis.

* A whirlpool and sauna.

* A massage therapy room.

* An elegant ballroom, with ample space to waltz, two-step or fox trot.

* Tennis courts, including four regulation courts and a stadium court, and four bocce ball courts.

* An outdoor sports facility with a regulation softball field (including spectator seating), a sand volleyball court and six horseshoe pits.

* A separate Wellness Center, offering a variety of programs and classes designed to enhance and promote wellness for a better quality of life. Activities include monthly educational lectures on various topics related to aging, as well as personal wellness profile assessments.

Of course, there’s also the 18-hole, championship Whisper Creek Golf Course, for a more traditional approach to recreation and fitness.

Wide Range of Classes and Facilities Available

Classes and facilities are geared toward a wide range of interests, needs and abilities, said Sun City Fitness Director Tiffany Skelton, who has been part of Sun City Huntley since it opened in December 1999.

For example, Sun City offers 20-plus fitness classes each week, from water aerobics and low-impact aerobics at a few different levels, to a higher-intensity step class designed for the extremely fit, Skelton said.

That, in an of itself, is probably not dissimilar to the offerings at a park district or gym.

But Sun City goes several steps further, through its partnership with the Centegra Health Systems, which provides specialty fitness programs for the community, Skelton said.

“We provide the more traditional fitness classes,” she explained. Centegra comes in and conducts more specialized classes, such as arthritis water exercise, tai chi, yoga and low-back strengthening.

Specialized Needs Met on Premises

This partnership means the more specialized needs of the mature active adult can be met right on the premises, without going to a hospital or other medical setting, she said.

“For example, the Wellness Center has a `balance and basics’ class,” Skelton said. “That’s a great class for someone who perhaps is recovering from a stroke or who has limited range of motion in their joints due to other chronic conditions.” Centegra will do seated-chair exercises plus exercises with hand weights and work on balance and coordination, she said.

“Between the two of us, we have a very comprehensive program,” she said.

This partnering allows entities to customize services, agreed Dan Nicholas, a principal at PHN Architects in Wheaton, Ill., the firm that designed Sun City’s facilities.

Such “wellness” services become more accessible and attractive when they’re teamed with an identified fitness center, even though such services have been provided at hospitals for years.

“There’s a mind set that hospitals are where you go when you’re not at the top of your game, for surgery, perhaps or for when you’re ailing,” Nicholas explained. “When these same prevention and rehabilitation services are teamed with a fitness center, they become a wellness center. People equate it with staying healthy and an active lifestyle.”

A big component of the Prairie Lodge Fitness Center is the FitLinxx Network, a computerized software program hooked into all of the Life Fitness cardiovascular and weight-training machines.

Each participant works first with a trainer, one-on-one, for a one-hour session, Skelton said. The participant then receives a five-digit ID code which they key into a free-standing computer kiosk whenever he or she returns to the fitness center.

The computer logs all data into the equipment, including the weight levels previously used, times and other pertinent information.

Participants hit “finish workout” when they’re done and the computer logs all the workout information. There’s an incentive program built right in, with different awards offered for earning different “fit points.”

The program is extremely popular, with about 1,300 people signing up in less than 18 months, Skelton said.

Functional Fitness

For many seniors, their biggest goal may be to maintain their quality of life, Skelton said.

“They may want to live to be 80, but they also want to be independent and healthy. They want to play with their grandchildren, they want to enjoy their lives.

“As you get older, you lose muscle mass,” Skelton said. And muscles are critical to staying fit, she pointed out. “You need to keep your muscles as strong as you can. That will help you get out of a car, turn the lid off the jar, carry groceries. Strong muscles help you with daily life.”

Thus, fitness needs to include strength training, designed to keep those muscles strong, she said.

In fact, Skelton hopes in the fall to institute some new classes geared toward flexibility, strength, balance and breathing.

“It’s crucial we focus on `core stability,’ “she said. “When you strengthen your abdominals, when you strengthen your back — the core of your body — you improve posture. You help prevent the hunching of shoulders that naturally occurs as people age,” she said.

All that strengthening of the core naturally tends to improve posture dramatically. “And the chance of injury decreases significantly,” Skelton said.

Skelton said most of her “customers” aren’t working out for the sake of big muscles but for the good of their overall health. “It’s not like a trendy health club,” she said. “They’re definitely past that. They care about their health.”

This caring shows in the use of the Sun City amenities. With the vast array of classes and activities at Sun City, the facilities get quite a workout, Skelton said.

“The Fitness Center opens at 6:30 in the morning and there’s always our regular group of people ready to work out,” Skelton said.

Skelton’s experience with older people helps her every day in her work with Sun City’s residents. She received her bachelor’s degree in community health education and minored in gerontology. She has a master’s degree in wellness management and gerontology and was a lifestyle counselor with a family medical practice. Before coming to Sun City she worked at an assisted living center.

“There’s a very diverse population here, from people still working and very active to people who are frail and need more care.”

Specialized fitness education is required, she said, to meet the different needs of the mature adult population vs. other segments of the population. “As people age there are a lot of different needs,” from osteoporosis to heart conditions to strokes.

Specialized training through highly accredited fitness organizations such as the American Council on Exercise, the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America or the American College of Sports Medicine helps fitness professionals providing the programs design ones that are safe and appropriate, she said.

The lifestyle at Sun City provides a built-in social support system, which in turn provides encouragement and the incentive to keep up with a fitness program, she said.

“Residents are anxious to come here, to see their friends.”

She hears frequently, from many residents, that they now have a chance to pamper themselves and take care of themselves.

“They’ve spent all their lives working and taking care of their children, their families,” Skelton said. “A lot of them haven’t utilized health clubs or had a place such as this to work out.

“It’s neat to see the residents embrace the lifestyle. It’s amazing to see how full their schedules are, because residents are trying to fit in the wide array of activities here.”

Facilities at the Heart of the Community

“The recreational facilities are the heart of the community,” said Harriet Ford, director of public affairs for Sun City Huntley. “People who make the decision to move to Sun City buy it for the lifestyle it offers.”

Sun City, she said, is for “people who want to continue to learn, to grow, to stay fit, to experience new horizons.” The array of classes and facilities means residents can try their hand at just about anything they’ve got a desire to experience, from painting, to gardening, to running, she said.

And of course, the community offers more than just fitness facilities. Residents can form “charter clubs” based on their interests, from running to art, to bridge to computers. In fact, the No. 1 club nationwide, among all of Del Webb’s active retirement communities, is computers, Ford said.

“We have activities for every level of physical fitness and in all areas of interests,” Ford said. “If someone has never picked up a paintbrush in his life, we have classes for that person as well as for someone who’s painted for 30 years.”

Living at Sun City is about forming new relationships, Ford said. “And lifestyle is the highlight of it all,” she said.

These new experiences may have been put on the back burner earlier in life because of family or work obligations, or perhaps finances. “Now they have the opportunity and people to do it with,” Ford said. “Maybe they wanted to learn to line-dance, but they didn’t want to go somewhere out in public and compete with kids their grandchildren’s age. Here they can learn with people their own age.”

That’s the same whether it’s learning to be a master gardener or leaning to paint, she said.

“We have people living here who have run marathons. Now there are people in the same age bracket they can run with,” she said. “We have a place for everyone.”

In fact, she said, one of the keys to Sun City’s success, Ford said, is Del Webb’s selectivity in choosing its partners and staff. “The staff is extremely knowledgeable — not only formally educated but also experienced,” she said.

That allows Sun City to offer programming for all levels. Such partnerships also were critical to the company’s building its state-of-the-art facility, she said.

Designing Senior Facilities

Approaching the design of a active-adult fitness facility is not too dissimilar from approaching the design of a recreational facility for all ages,” said Nicholas of PHN Architects. “You want to put a lot of energy into the design, use a lot of vibrant colors and natural light.”

But with facilities designed for active adults or senior health care, a few extra steps can make a big difference, Nicholas said.

Those extra steps may translate into wider corridors or, in a swimming pool, an accessibility ramp that provides for zero depth transition and for walking in and out of the pool. Sun City’s indoor pool, for example, includes such a ramp while the outdoor pool is a walk-out pool, providing for a natural, gradual transition from zero-depth to 5 feet.

Wider lanes for running/walking tracks accommodate more people no matter what the fitness level, he said. Normally, tracks are designed with three or four lanes, with the outer lanes — utilized by faster traffic — narrower than the inside walking lanes. At Sun City, all three lanes are the wider ones, to accommodate more people no matter what the fitness level, Nicholas said.

The partnering of services, such as Sun City’s alliance with Centegra, also impacts design, he said, pointing to the extra facilities needed, from extra class space to rehabilitation areas, to assessment rooms. “Those are additional services which require additional space,” he said.

Still another design consideration for a facility geared toward older adults is the need for gathering and lounging space.

“Though not applicable in all cases, certainly, when we think of active older adults, we may think of those who are retired,” said Nicholas. “They have more free time, and can gather and socialize after a workout. There’s a whole social aspect that is layered into the active adult/senior approach. Older adults may show up an hour before their class or may gather with their friends after a particular activity. So these adults need casual lounge and gathering spaces,” he said.

“This is the opposite of, say, a park district facility. Members of those facilities generally are there to get a workout or participate in a program, and go home.”

Recently, designers have tried to give even park district facilities, which are by their very nature designed for people of all ages, segmented wings or sections for various age groups. A preschool area may have a playground and a security setup unlike that for the rest of the building, perhaps, he said. Districts also may try to create a segmented area for seniors and their pro grams as well, he said.

“A lot of that is just trying to provide a place of belonging,” Nicholas said. “When you have a lot of people intermingling, there’s a tendency to lose a sense of home. What you want to strive for is to make all these facilities as comfortable as your home.”

The Future

It’s obvious that senior fitness is not an oxymoron, that more and more people will seek out fitness as they age.

With older adults more active than ever, there’s not much differentiation between adult and youth centers, from the standpoint of the activities each segment may participate in, Nicholas said.

“Trends show seniors being more and more fitness-oriented. Many older adults can easily keep up with 30- or 40-year-olds,” he said.

“Baby Boomers are more physically fit than previous generations,” Ford pointed out of the generation born between 1946 and 1964; those at the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation are just starting to turn 55 in 2001.

“They are not allowing the aging process to impact their lifestyle negatively.”

Boomers, she said, do not recognize limits. “If you want to rollerblade and you’re in your 60s, you’ll do it,” she said.

Also impacting this trend is changing work patterns, according to Ford.

“People don’t really retire at 55 anymore. They work well into their 60s or even into their 70s or 80s. Maybe they’re working part-time or maybe they’re starting a second career. It’s all part of the “there are no limits” attitude. And we see that with our recreational facilities as well.”

Check out “Senior Fitness” by Beth Bales on page 96. A resident of Geneva, Illinois, she is a writer associated with PHN Architects of Wheaton, Ill. PHN specializes in the design of recreational facilities, including golf courses, clubhouses, recreation centers, and aquatic centers. She also works with a media relations firm in Naperville, Ill., and is a former newspaper reporter and copy editor and currently writes a weekly “community column” for a suburban Chicago newspaper. She says, “I suppose I fit into the category I keep saying in print these days — that of `aging Baby Boomer’ — but as someone who works out at a park district facility five to sex days a week, I guess I think I’m going to be more like the people who live in Sun City Huntley, the community I profiled for this article. Like all people who enjoy the extensive recreational facilities offered there, I plan to enjoy being active for many years to come!”

COPYRIGHT 2001 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group