Newswise — Last winter, 12 to 20 older adults were exercising three days a week at the United Methodist Community Life Center through the Healthy Movement class led by South Dakota State University Exercise Science Club members.

Linda and Ron Thaden of Brookings began attending the class five years ago after being part of a SDSU research study that evaluated how nutrition and exercise can increase older adults’ quality of life. The Healthy Movement class helped them continue exercising.

“One or more (SDSU) students lead us through the exercises. If someone has a problem figuring out what to do with the movement, they are very helpful,” Ron Thaden explained. “It was not just the physical exercises, but also the socializing as well. It worked out pretty well.” Then the pandemic hit in March.

“COVID-19 shut us down. Many of us are more than 70 years old. Our oldest member will be 93 and we just felt it was too dangerous for us to get together,” said Linda Thaden. “Just missing two weeks (of class), you notice right away—muscles hurt a bit and you lose balance quickly without practice.” The combination of muscle strength and balance helps prevent falls.

The Thadens and others “were trying to do the exercises at home,” Linda Thaden said. However, sometimes recalling exactly how a movement is performed can be difficult.

When classes resumed in the summer, the number of participants dropped to six or fewer, Ron Thaden said. Though the members exercise 8 to 10 feet apart and wear masks, many were uncomfortable returning to class, particularly those with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and multiple sclerosis.

Student-initiated solution

When class attendance remained low last fall, Exercise Science Club president Danika Tindall, a senior from Akron, Iowa, and vice president Nikole Hemish, a senior from Canby, Minnesota, asked club adviser, professor Jessica Meendering of the Department of Health and Nutritional Sciences, what they could do.

“I threw out the big picture idea about how to create at-home kits and provide virtual instruction for the participants who are not comfortable attending the group exercise class—and they ran with it,” Meendering said. “It wasn’t long before they were sending me pictures of themselves buying materials.”

Tindall and Hemish purchased the materials—a pair of dumbbells, stretch band material and sections of PVC pipe—which mimicked the materials they had access to in the face-to-face class. Regan Benike, a junior from Castlewood and the incoming club vice president, put together a DVD. She recruited a group of club members and took videos of them doing exercises. Club member Katie Samuelson narrated the exercise instructions, while club member Jaden Flanagan recorded the video.  

“I prepared the club members on-deck for the exercises they would be demonstrating. Then, I put all the files on my laptop and used my existing software to edit the complete video. From there, I added an introduction and music and called it good,” Benike said.

Giving to community

The students distributed 17 kits with a DVD and the tools to exercise at home to their Healthy Movement class members. The students have enough materials to assemble 13 more kits. “It was a gift—and a service that helps those who want to exercise,” Ron Thaden said.

“Every year we do fundraising and use the money for professional development trips, but COVID-19 put a damper on that. We got creative on how to use the funds we had to give back to the community,” Hemish said. “I think this was even better than the trips.”

“It was nice to do this for a good cause and keep what we started going,” Benike added.

Tindall said, “We have always been taught that exercise is (good) medicine. Whether you’re working on your arms or legs, it’s making everything in your body work better.” It’s especially important for older adults. “We want to keep them in their homes,” Hemish added.

Healthy Movement participant Linda Thaden has a shorter-term goal: “I am hoping if we all get our (COVID-19) shots, this spring we can get back together again.” Until then, those who are not yet comfortable returning to class have what they need to continue exercising.

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