Posted by Hilary Tolan, JF&CS Aging Well at Home Program Manager

A group of older adults enjoying an Arthritis Exercise Class.

On a crisp, sunny day in November, a group of residents at Brookline Housing Authority joined me for an Arthritis Exercise Class. Participation ranged from a couple of younger residents with disabilities to residents who are well into their 80s. The program is one hour a week over eight weeks and is designed for people with arthritis and anyone interested in a gentle approach to exercise. Each participant comes with widely varying degrees of health and fitness ability.

The Arthritis Exercise Class is a perfect fit for Aging Well at Home, which provides a range of services that support the well-being of older adults living in the community. The program focuses on naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) where there are high concentrations of older adults, particularly senior housing.

Certified Arthritis Exercise Instruction

A year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to become a certified exercise instructor through the Arthritis Foundation. This involved a six-month course and passing a final exam. I have been a student at many yoga classes and taken tai chi (both of which have informed my current teaching), but leading an exercise class has been a new and exciting experience for me. My background is as an art educator and artist, and I use my teaching background to inform how I design and think about best practices when instructing the class.

The Arthritis Foundation manual has medical information about the many forms of arthritis, exercise and safety tips, and illustrations of exercises that the Arthritis Foundation specifically designed to be used for their program. From the manual, I choose exercises that I feel will flow well, make a suitable progression, and be appropriate for my audience.

Participants in my class can expect an encouraging atmosphere where everyone takes things at their own pace. Some people may need to do most or all of the class while sitting down, which is perfectly fine. I want people to feel at ease and comfortable in my class. This is not a “no-pain, no-gain” type of situation at all! The class is low impact and designed to maintain or improve joint mobility, decrease pain, increase muscle strength, improve energy, and improve overall well-being.

Bringing People Together

A lovely aspect of the Arthritis Exercise Classes is that participants are from all over the world, so each class is a wonderful mix of people and backgrounds. Currently, I have students from Iran, China, Bulgaria, and the United States. Another great element of the class is that a few participants follow me from building to building because they enjoy the class and get the most benefit from continuing it on an ongoing basis. I affectionately refer to them as my exercise “groupies!”

Feedback from participants has been very positive. In a class survey, one participant shared, “I really enjoyed this class. The teacher talked about how to work these exercises into your daily life and discussed safety. She kept the class very non-competitive.” Another participant wrote, “Hilary has a warm and encouraging manner. I found that my overall muscular health improved. Thank you!”

I am so pleased that the Arthritis Exercise Class is helping older adults feel stronger and more positive about their overall health.

For a listing of more workshops and groups offered by JF&CS, visit our Upcoming Events page.