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Vital Living Alexandria is wellness program designed for people 50+

Vital Living team members include (back, left to right) Mary Krueger, Heidi Ryan, Susan Scarborough, Ann Clayton, Suzanne Sudmeier and Melanie Chancellor; (front) Jessica Boyer and Jeanne Howell. Not pictured: Sonja Kuhn. (Contributed photo.)

Alexandria is a retirement town. With an older population that’s expected to do nothing but grow, Vital Living Alexandria formed to help people age into retirement.

Heidi Ryan, team member for Vital Living Alexandria and a former registered nurse, summarized the main goal of the program: to improve the well-being of the older than 50 population.

Whether it’s helping socially, mentally or physically, the goal is to improve overall health and better prepare people for retirement.

Vital Living Alexandria is one of four wellness pilots in Minnesota created by Vital Aging Network, an organization with a mission to promote self-determination, civic engagement, and personal growth for people as they age.

The wellness program began three years ago as a pilot, but recently received funding to continue for an additional three years.

The Alexandria branch also received a grant from the United Methodist Church to support the project.

Ann Clayton, another team member for Vital Living Alexandria with experience in management, research and public policy consulting, said that the entire community has been supportive of the program. From the YMCA to personal instructors, many have decided to help the project by teaching classes during the program’s physical activity portion.

“The community has just stepped up and been wonderful in saying, ‘You know, I believe in what you’re doing,’” Clayton said.

The idea of the program is to promote healthy lifestyles, so physical fitness was a feature with which the team members decided to start. The concept was to get those older than 50 physically active.

“They don’t have to be marathon runners,” Clayton said, “but they do have to work on strength, flexibility and balance.”

The physical activity pilot stretched over 12 weeks of the summer and included a program created by Go4Life to help participants in those three areas, as well as group activities such as biking, paddle boarding, yoga, dancing, and tai chi to further improve their physical fitness.

Physical activity classes were free and took place at a variety of locations, depending on the class type and instructor.

Besides the physical activity portion of the program, the three-year pilot included leadership training that helped teach team members about community organizing.

Team members are all volunteers who share a common interest and concern for health and well-being with careers in everything from nurse to midwife to health educator.

Clayton said that a huge part of her job was trying to figure out what motivates people to stay dedicated to an activity, whether it’s their friends, their neighbors, or their families.

“If we can harness the energy of the retirees, I think it could be very beneficial for Alexandria,” Ryan said.

During the pilot, volunteer team members helped 12 program participants with finding a purpose and incorporating that into life after retirement.

Ryan said the reason they target people for a retirement program at an age as young as 50 is because that’s the age people tend to get a first glimpse at retirement and start experiencing empty nest syndrome.

“They’re a tremendous resource as far as their skills, education, background and knowledge,” Clayton said of the retirees.

LOOKING AHEAD

Vital Living Alexandria has already created a program to help people older than 50 with physical activity, but that is just the beginning. The organization also plans to help with other key aspects of overall health such as healthy eating, healthy thinking and feeling, and prevention and coping.

Along with continuing to offer the physical activity program, Vital Living Alexandria is partnering with Alexandria Community Education to offer more classes and programs starting this winter to provide insight on the other three key aspects. These classes include Aging with Gusto, Community Equals Care as well as Building Your Emotional and Social Profile and another 12 week physical activity session.

And it doesn’t stop there. Vital Living Alexandria is applying for a program called the Aging Mastery Program that will allow it to help others master the aging and retirement process, not only financially, but socially and mentally, as well.

For more information about Vital Living Alexandria, email info@alexandriamn.org or call (320) 762-3310.

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