retirees stretching in a gym
December 14, 2020

Get Out in the Playground: Proactive Health Strategies

by Jeanette Van Hyfte

“Keep moving and be proactive to maintain and improve your health” was Ron Schafer’s message at an ARTA Wellness Committee meeting. Ron presented information on August 18 via Zoom informing the committee of his free seniors’ fitness program. He also shared two videos, one with Stephen Jepson showing creative and fun-filled ways to exercise and the other with Dan Buettner, a researcher and writer for National Geographic. Buettner is well known for studying areas in the world with the healthiest people, the most centenarians, and their secrets to longevity. Inspired by Jepson and Buettner, Ron incorporated many of these lessons into his free seniors’ fitness program at Burman University in Lacombe.

Ron is an associate professor of physical education at Burman University (previously called Canadian Union College). With a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Physical Education, Ron taught at the Canadian Union College and Burman University, recently celebrating his fortieth year as a health and physical education instructor, coach, athlete, and fundraiser. He coached many sports teams over the years, including an acrobatics team named the “Acronaires.” Ron continued to coach and participate in acrobatic performances for thirty years, with performances throughout Canada and in many other parts of the world. To achieve these goals, Ron raised thousands of dollars.

Jepson’s motivational and inspiring video called “Never Leave the Playground,” showed the capabilities of an individual in his 70s. His philosophy is to keep moving and have fun staying physically and mentally fit. Jepson demonstrated some simple to complex physical activities to challenge seniors. These activities focus on balance, hand-eye coordination, leg strength, and fine muscle control, and include juggling, picking up marbles with your toes and putting them in a container, and balancing while walking on rocks. For those who are feeling confident, try balancing on a board on a can and juggling at the same time. You can also create your own exercise toys to make the activity even more fun and customized to your skills.

Dan Buettner, a researcher and writer who worked with National Geographic, explains some of the secrets to longevity. He located the healthiest and oldest living people in the world and found five longevity zones having the most centenarians. They are Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; Icaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California. We can learn from the behaviours that the people living in these zones have in common, including putting importance on moving, having a healthy diet, being with family, feeling socially connected, and embracing spirituality.

Ron Schafer’s classes for Lacombe seniors cover many aspects of wellness such as physical, social, intellectual, and emotional wellness. Workouts include physical and mental activities such as weight training, stretching, balancing exercises, and juggling. Ron assured his participants and the Wellness Committee that we can all be very fit as seniors. For those seniors who would like an extra challenge, he also has a seniors’ acrobatics team.

Ron’s mission is to improve the health of seniors in Lacombe and for the city to become a “Blue Zone,” a term used to identify areas with high longevity, as described in Buettner’s book, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest. As many as ninety people were attending Ron’s popular seniors’ program before schools went online due to COVID-19. Ron stated, “I hope the people in Lacombe will develop a culture of wellness to build a strong immune system to help prevent diseases, which would also lower costs to our health system.”

After attending Ron’s presentation, I was fascinated by how much activity seniors are capable of doing, as shown in Stephen Jepson’s video and Ron’s PowerPoint presentation on his seniors’ fitness program. There is no guarantee that we will all become centenarians, but it was interesting to learn some of their secrets to a longer and healthier life, as studied by Dan Buettner. ARTA members would acquire proactive ways to maintain good health by participating in a similar session. It will also be beneficial for Ron to demonstrate some of the fitness activities along with his session, as was planned for CARTA’s Biometric Day prior to COVID-19. We hope this event will be able to happen soon.

After retiring from Lacombe Junior High School, Jeanette Van Hyfte focused on health and wellness. She was on CARTA’s wellness committee for thirteen years and the ARTA Wellness Committee in 2019–2020. With her husband, Mike, Jeanette participated in Ron’s classes for three years. While she thinks of Ron’s acrobatic team as her ultimate goal, she says it’s a little too daunting at this time.