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Beat the winter blues

How to stay fit physically and cognitively year-round

Created date

December 23rd, 2013
two women with dog

Nearly everyone gets the “winter blues” now and then. The days are shorter, the nights are longer, and the cold air nips at your nose, making isolation more common during winter months. But some people suffer from a more severe form of depression.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that sets in as the days become shorter. At higher latitudes, where days are even shorter, it’s more prominent,” says Jennifer Koscelnik, rehabilitation wellness technician at Wind Crest, an Erickson Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo. 

“Fortunately,” she says, “studies have shown that SAD primarily affects younger people, in particular, women in their 20s to 40s. However, for those older adults who deal with SAD, exercise can help. Exercise releases endorphins, those ‘feel good’ hormones, and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a minimum of three times a week is very beneficial in helping people get through the winter.”

“The winter blues can be warded off not only from social activity, but from physical activity as well,” says Molly Thorne-Dhieux, sales counselor at Crest. “That’s why our community has more than 100 clubs and activities to help keep residents healthy and happy all year-round.”

To find out more, I turned to Community Resources Coordinator Melanie Land and Wellness Manager Kristy Hebert. Here are their recommendations for beating the winter blues:

Wind Crest Wellness Manager Kristy Hebert

Q: Is there a social aspect to group fitness that makes people more likely to keep coming back to the fitness center, leading them to stay healthier and happier?

A: Absolutely! There is a sense of community and camaraderie with going to group exercise classes. Attendees hold each other accountable for coming to class, so people are more likely to come, knowing they would be missed if they didn’t. Residents will pass each other in the hall and ask why they weren’t in class. Instructors also provide exercises that residents normally wouldn’t do on their own, and group classes are fun and entertaining; this keeps things interesting while challenging participants.

Q: What are some of your most popular group fitness classes?

A: Our most popular class is probably Simply Motion Aqua, followed by the Aerobic Circuit classes. 

Water classes provide a safe environment for older adults to move in; whereas, on land they might be afraid of falling. The warm water feels good on the body and offers resistance while doing regular, everyday movements, making it a great way to train functionally for when they’re on the land.

Aerobic Circuit is fairly popular, and we offer two classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to accommodate residents. These classes are land-based and combine a cardiovascular workout with strength training utilizing hand weights, balls, and tubing. 

Lastly, water volleyball is very popular. It’s not led by any instructor—it’s simply a scheduled time for residents to play a friendly game of volleyball in the pool. And they have a great time doing it.

Q: We all know fitness helps us stay physically healthy. But how do fitness and group exercise classes in particular help older adults stay cognitively fit, too?

A: The combination of aerobic exercise with strength training appears to have a greater effect on cognition than aerobic exercise alone, and activity should be performed for more than 30 minutes. Our group exercise classes typically combine aerobic, strength, and balance training. The instructor is also able to push participants harder than they might push themselves if they were working out on their own to help them achieve greater levels of fitness. Also, regular socialization has been shown to help with memory, and group exercise provides that opportunity. 

And if someone were to develop an illness like Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, we have attended training symposiums that have helped us incorporate aerobic exercise for both diseases. In particular with Parkinson’s, regular aerobic exercise not only has the capability to delay the progression of the disease, but may even be able to prevent it!


Wind Crest Community Resources Coordinator Melanie Land

Q: Wind Crest has a ton of clubs and activities for residents to stay active and involved. How does staying social and active benefit older adults?

A: We currently have over 100 clubs and activities, and this continues to grow. If a resident wants [an activity] that we do not have, then we see what the interest is with all residents and try to get that club or group started.  

Staying social and active has a positive benefit in numerous ways because it allows older adults to maintain interactive relationships with others their age as well as Wind Crest staff of various ages. If you have clubs/activities to keep you active, you are more likely to stay motivated to participate, stay socially engaged, and others in the club will hold you accountable for attending so you develop great relationships with others. You are also learning new things, challenging yourself, and keeping your mind active. 

Q: Is there such a thing as “winter blues,” and how can staying involved in one or more of the activities at Wind Crest help someone stay happier and more positive during winter? 

A: It is, of course, harder to get out and enjoy our beautiful community at Wind Crest when we are in the winter months. And since it gets so cold out, many tend to stay indoors. However, everything here is designed so you never have to leave campus. We try to have everything you would need available, from a wide variety of wellness classes, games, and entertainment to lectures, and lunches/dinner events. With so many exciting options of events, activities, and groups, we hope that everyone stays happier and enjoys themselves. 

Q: Do you find there is a significant benefit to living at Wind Crest, where social activities are readily available, rather than isolated in one’s house, when it comes to health and happiness? 

A: There is a huge benefit to living at Wind Crest where everything is available, and if we don’t have a club or activity you want, we try our best to make it happen. Living with more than 700 other residents, you have numerous friends who invite you to events and dinners, and you get to know so many friendly people. The residents and staff become family, and everyone always talks to one another and knows about each other’s lives and families. 

Staying socially active with the friendships, physically active in many of our wellness classes and beautiful outside grounds, and having anything you need readily available at your fingertips is a huge advantage to living at Wind Crest. You do not stay isolated because you come out for meals, events, classes, and entertainment events, and your friends (both staff and fellow residents) will want you to join them and hold you responsible for being there. 

Safety-wise, it is incredibly beneficial to live at Wind Crest because we have emergency pull cords in every apartment that will alert 24-hour, on-site medical staff that you are in need of assistance. Everything we offer is comforting to residents’ families as well. They know their loved one is having fun, enjoying life, sharing their gifts with others, and living in a beautiful and safe place to enjoy it all.