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Change your focus from illness to wellness

Created date

February 26th, 2013
Massage therapy

If you have health problems, dealing with them can sometimes seem like a full-time job. Taking medications, doing treatments, and seeing doctors can take up a lot of your precious time. You may feel like there’s no way to add anything else to your daily health care regimen. But over the years, we’ve learned that just treating illness isn’t enough. You have to practice wellness.

Wellness means the state of being in optimal health, and “optimal” can mean different things for different people. The components of a wellness program—whether it’s good nutrition, physical activity, or preventive medical care—can benefit anyone, regardless of their health. “Embracing wellness empowers people to take charge of their health care,” says Monika Eller, OTR, C/NDT, an occupational therapist and business development manager at Erickson Living. “When we look at people throughout history who have lived long, healthy lives, we see that they practiced a wellness lifestyle, including plenty of physical activity, good nutrition, socialization, and stress management.”

The cornerstone of any wellness program is physical activity. Time and time again, research bears out its benefits for just about any health problem. “The number one treatment for arthritis, for example, is being active,” says Leslie Rigali, D.O., medical director at Brooksby Village, an Erickson Living community in Peabody, Mass. “Physical activity helps you feel good physically and mentally.”

“Managing and reversing some symptoms of aging involves movement,” Eller explains. “It boosts your energy, bolsters your confidence, and helps you live independently.”

It’s never too late to get started. “If you are in your 80s or 90s and feel like it’s no longer necessary to participate in physical activity, think again. Fitness gets even more important the older you are,” Rigali explains. “The less you move now, the less you’ll be able to move in the future.”

A variety of proven wellness programs

Doing an activity you love is important if you want to stick with it. “Erickson Living residents have multiple options,” Rigali says. “If the on-site fitness center seems too overwhelming, you can try the pool. You can take advantage of a variety of fitness classes available on campus, and some programs are broadcast on the community’s television network so you can do them at home.”

“We offer indoor cycling, yoga, cardio boot camp, aquatic programs, Zumba, and many others,” Eller says. “Our Outpatient Rehabilitation and Wellness Center is designed with senior-friendly equipment, such as the Alter-G treadmill. This anti-gravity technology is ideal for people who aren’t used to traditional exercise equipment, is adaptable for unweighting joints with a reduction in impact.”

If you’ve had surgery such as a joint replacement or are undergoing rehabilitation for another health problem, adding a wellness component to your program makes it even better. “Research shows that people who combine rehab and fitness have better outcomes,” Eller says. “Some people think that when you are finished with rehab, you are all better and have accomplished your goals. But you need a plan beyond that—as little as four days of inactivity can lead to reversal of some of the gains you’ve made with regard to muscle strength and balance.”

The balance classes offered at Erickson Living campuses have been tested and proven for their effectiveness in improving strength and preventing falls. And there are some unexpected benefits to another type of exercise class. “A local doctors’ group found that adding pilates to standard treatments for incontinence helped some people control the condition better,” Eller says.

Along with fitness, other wellness services are available, including low vision, arthritis management, bone health, and a Parkinson’s group.

If you don’t know where to begin, start with a personal trainer. “Our personal trainers are available to work with you in your home if you prefer,” Eller says. “Wellness means something different for each person, so having a custom-designed program is the best way to approach it.”

“Your doctor can recommend activities that may be the best for you based on your medical conditions,” Rigali says.

Massage therapies

Complementary and alternative medicine has become more popular in recent years, so massage is a popular new service. “You can choose from a whole menu of massage therapies such as chair massage, deep tissue, neuromuscular, and many others,” Eller says. “Each is designed specifically for seniors and our therapists are there to help you decide what’s best for you.”

“Wellness services help you enhance your quality of life no matter how many health problems you have,” Rigali says. “I can see a remarkable difference in my patients who practice a wellness philosophy.”