In a typical work week, Hannah LeBlanc, B.S., makes daily trips to the Piper Shores Lifecare Retirement Community in Scarborough where, as a fitness specialist with the University of New England’s Exercise and Conditioning for Easier Living (U-ExCEL) program, she leads exercise classes for the older adults living there.
But these are not typical times. While the novel coronavirus has yet to reach Piper Shores, the center has effectively closed down its campus in an effort to prevent spread of COVID-19 to its residents who, because of their age, are particularly at risk of complications from the disease. Because of this, LeBlanc is not able to lead her weekly workouts in person – but that has not stopped her from performing the task.
Older adults need physical activity to stay healthy and manage chronic conditions, LeBlanc said. To keep Piper Shores residents active, she has created online workout plans for them to complete from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Every Monday, LeBlanc sends out a document to the community with 10 exercises for the week, accompanied by affirmational quotes, exercise-specific online resources, and links to videos of herself, filmed on her cell phone, demonstrating each exercise. When weights are required for the workouts, LeBlanc provides a list of common household items and their associated weights, so participants can engage in strength training.
LeBlanc said it was important to keep the U-ExCEL program alive, despite mandated isolation, to keep residents active and engaged.
“It’s incredibly important to be providing any sort of exercise that we can. It keeps older adults confident and independent, helps manage stress, and reduces the burden of chronic conditions,” she said. “It also brings peace of mind.”
The at-home workout plans are an adapted version of the U-ExCEL program’s traditional workout regimen. U-ExCEL, an auxiliary program of the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Division of Geriatrics, contracts with area life care campuses, assisted living environments, and community-based organizations to provide functional fitness and wellness programming and education.
The program evaluates individuals’ health and fitness goals along with current medical diagnoses to improve or maintain function through techniques including strength, balance, endurance, nutrition, and other supportive wellness interventions.
U-ExCEL offers several workout programs for its participants, and LeBlanc has been able to put three of them entirely online: Strength and Balance, which addresses improving core, upper, and lower body strength; Sit and Fit, a chair exercise program that works muscles all over the body to improve strength and flexibility while in a sitting position; and Core Dynamics, which targets the abdominal muscles, back, hips, and buttocks.
The online version of these workouts is still in its infancy, LeBlanc said, and is now just moving into its second full week of classes.
However, she said feedback so far has been positive, and having the routines saved online will allow people to access them in the future, even if they are unable to attend a U-ExCEL class. Soon enough, LeBlanc also hopes to lead walking sessions with small groups of Piper Shores residents around the community’s scenic coastal campus.
Additionally, not only are LeBlanc’s digitized workouts benefitting U-ExCEL participants, they will also benefit older adults across Maine and in other states. The Maine Council on Aging has started sharing LeBlanc’s weekly workout regiments, making them available to the state’s older adults as well as their care providers, and UNE’s Center for Excellence in Aging and Health sends the workouts to more than 400 people in the Legacy Scholars program.
“This is really a public service that Hannah is now creating,” said Marilyn Gugliucci, Ph.D., professor and director of the U-ExCEL program. “Having the option to do a workout in their own homes to stay functional is so important. We’re really trying to de-stress people and keep them functional. The worst thing for an older person is for them to be sedentary.”