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Sam Nokek with the group

RHBS PhD student finds a new team leading local seniors exercise group

Written By: Samantha (Sam) Noyek

Some months ago, I learnt of an opportunity for a “Seniors Exercise Class Leader” in a local residential apartment building. I quickly responded because leading a fitness class is something I have always wanted to do. My Rehabilitation Science education has shown me many reasons why seniors might desire weekly exercise. Attaining optimal physical and mental health benefits requires both moderate-intensity aerobic activity and exercises for balance, flexibility, and strength. While aware that such functional capacity and quality of life exercise-outcomes are, with age, increasingly important to address, I had not anticipated the immense psychological and social benefits both the participants and I would gain.

Our group meets Monday and Thursday mornings in the Common Room, on the top floor of a local apartment residence. This diverse group of seniors (some presenting lower back pain, arthritis, osteoporosis or early onset of a neurological disease) use a mix of resistance bands and small balls to engage in lots of stretching, balancing and aerobic movement. All to the lively tune of a “60’s classic” playlist.

Clearly, I am not only a fitness instructor, but also a member of a unique team! Participants of the exercise class have gained an opportunity to make new connections and enhance social participation – and so have I. Those who meet me quickly learn that I find it difficult to stay quiet for more than 5 minutes, a characteristic that came in handy for this job. I love to ask participants about their weekends and family life and to share my own school-related progress and other life endeavors. If I learn something about a participant, I am eager to follow up and hear about it the next week. While some participants feel they are living through me and my experiences in my 20s, I am as eager to live through their accomplishments, personal history, and family expansions.

As a former Western University Varsity Cheerleader, I have prominent memories of functioning as a team; I fondly remember the support system of 40 fellow athletes, the connections made with spectators by smiling from the football sidelines, and the encouragement I could provide my teammates gaining new skills or athletes scoring touchdowns.

Now, at a very different time in my life, I have developed a similar team. The seniors involved in our group support my success in the Rehabilitation Science PhD program. I find great joy in smiling across the room at participants as they follow my cues. Each participant and I eagerly high-five each other after each class.

I hope that through our weeks together, each individual gains a better integration into their communities, formation of social networks, and increased engagement with others. For my part, the day I ventured across the LaSalle causeway redefining my boundaries of Kingston, I did not expect the connections and growth I would gain. I am even more thrilled to know that the group enjoys my time as much as I cherish our team.