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    Checks And Balances: A Follow-Up “Check-In” With Balance and Falls Expert Molly Roffman

    As you may remember, last June agebuzz readers were lucky to learn from the wisdom and advice of Molly Roffman, the balance and falls expert who runs the studio StepWISEnow. The interview with Molly was one of our most popular posts from 2020, and now she is back to share more insights and recommendations, given the lockdowns and limitations we have all experienced this past year. Her balance and fitness classes are currently being run virtually and are available to all online, and her suggestions for fitness during this time are easy to implement and essential to follow in order to lower the risk of falls and strengthen your balance! What follows is a new interview just conducted between agebuzz Managing Editor Connie Zuckerman and Molly:


    Molly, thank you once again for sharing your wisdom with agebuzz readers! First, how are you and your clients doing this many months into the pandemic? Are you conducting classes and sessions exclusively online or have some of your clients come back into the studio?


    It’s really nice to be invited back to agebuzz! All of our classes continue to be online but we’ve modified them to better suit the online experience by shortening classes to between 10 and 30 minutes and adding more variety.  We’ve also been meeting outdoors to take walks in area parks and are looking forward to hosting classes outside again as the weather warms. 


    How has it been working with older adults through online balance and exercise classes? Have your clients adapted? Have you found tricks or tips to help older adults adapt to online classes? What’s been the most challenging for you and your clients? And have there been any happy surprises?


    I’m very impressed with the way most everyone has adapted to virtual classes. Most clients really love the flexibility of online classes because they can attend a live class or take the class later (on demand) at their convenience.  Pre-recorded classes also give the student the opportunity to pause the video, watch certain segments again or watch in slow motion so that they can take charge of their own viewing experience. Online classes can also reach many more people who might not feel comfortable going to a group exercise class but like the feel of an online community. One happy surprise is that students have been trying classes they might not have tried at the studio and some are exercising more frequently because it’s just a click away!


    One of the obstacles to online learning is the size of the viewing screen. Ideally, students can watch from their TV screens so that the teacher is easier to see and they don’t have to manipulate the device during class.  A challenge from the teaching perspective is not being able to give corrections easily, tailoring content to suit smaller spaces, and adding modifications for different floor surfaces (smooth vs. carpeted). 


    What advice would you have for those of us who have spent more time on the couch than on the exercise bike or treadmill during this time? What are the risks when someone hasn’t exercised in a long time? How can we get ourselves stronger if we haven’t done much walking or exercise during the pandemic?


    It is
    never too late to start to become more active and it is always worth it!  The biggest challenge is simply deciding to do it. Always check with your physician first about what exercise is right for you and if there are any activities or movements you should avoid. Then, make the commitment to yourself and begin gradually with a realistic goal.  


    For example, you can start by deciding what time of day you’re going to exercise and for how long. Maybe you’ll choose 10:15 a.m. for just 3 minutes of marching-in-place and 2 minutes of stretching. Set a timer so you know when you’re finished and you will feel a sense of accomplishment at the sound of the bell!  After a week your body will naturally want to do more and it won’t feel like a chore. Be sure to make a checkmark on the calendar for each time you’ve completed your 5 minutes of exercise and then reward yourself at the end of the week with something special. Before you know it, just feeling better will be its own reward. 


    Given the winter weather, what are your concerns about falling risks or shaky balance, especially for those of us who want to walk outside during this time? What precautions should we take?


    If the conditions outside are dangerous I recommend exercising inside instead until it’s safe to be outside again. If you have to be outside in slippery/icy conditions there are several shoe attachments that can help to prevent slipping. These traction attachments were first developed by ice climbers and are now available for everyone at outdoor equipment stores (REI, LL Bean, for example).  If you’re active and want to exercise outdoors in the winter be sure to invest in the right equipment, like boots with good traction and hiking poles. Aging is an adventure and for that reason, outdoor recreational equipment stores are great places to find gear and equipment that can help us stay as active as we’d like to be. 


    For those of us with little gym equipment at our homes, and anxiety about returning to an exercise studio, how can we best keep up our strength and balance at home?


    One of the simplest ways to get stronger at home is simply to stand up and sit down from a chair several times in a row — all you need is a sturdy chair. 


    To stand up: Choose a sturdy chair with a firm seat and armrests. Begin by sitting forward in the chair. Place your feet hip-width apart and draw your feet back under you slightly. Place your hands on the armrests. When you’re ready — hinge forward at the hips and press down firmly into your feet to stand up. 


    To sit down: Reach your hips back toward the seat and your arms back onto the armrests — gradually lower yourself back into the seat with control. Try not to plop down! And repeat. 


    A few pointers: Don’t allow your knees to cave inward as you stand and sit. Keep your knees over your feet. In the beginning, you may need to raise the seat height because it’s easier to get up from a higher surface. You can adjust the seat height by adding a firm square foam pillow (you can get one from a pharmacy) or a thick folded blanket securely to the seat. As you get stronger you can remove the cushion/blanket and begin to stand up without the use of the armrests (arms crossed on the chest). This exercise can be done every other day. Progress the exercise by increasing the number of repetitions.  If you’re a bit unsteady when standing — place the chair in front of a counter or table so you have a support to hold on to once standing. 


    Strengthening the legs will certainly help your balance but strengthening your balance is also important. A simple balance exercise is the box step: step forward, step side (R), step back, and step side (L) — bringing the feet together each time. This simple exercise can be done holding on to a support or hands-free as you feel more confident. 


    What about those of us who have lost the motivation or drive to keep ourselves strong and confident? Do you have any advice about how we can build back motivation and ambition to become stronger and more confident with our balance?


    It’s understandable to lose motivation at times but it’s important to remember that staying active can lift your spirits, help you to sleep better, decrease your pain, and actually make you feel more energized. 


    One of my students made a list of these benefits and put it on the fridge to remind her why it’s so good to keep moving and it helps her to stay motivated.  Another student asked a friend to be her workout buddy.  They reward each other with a phone call after their workout to keep each other accountable and challenge each other which makes it more fun.


    If you find yourself making a lot of excuses as to why you aren’t more active, take a moment to make an ‘excuses list’.  Jot down all of the reasons why you don’t get to it during the day and then challenge each one. One of my favorite excuses is, “I’m too tired to exercise” but I know that if I do it first thing in the morning, I’ll feel more energized for the rest of the day. So, no more excuses!


    And being active doesn’t have to mean tedious exercise for exercise sake.  It can be practical like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or it can be fun like dancing around the kitchen to your favorite music. 


    As we begin to get vaccinated and feel that we can go back out in the world, how would you advise us to approach in-person and group classes?


    The decision to return to group classes should be made in consultation with your physician and with regard to the recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the local Health Department. I believe that even with the vaccine, some precautions will continue to be warranted. 


    There is research that safer classes are classes with a smaller class size (5 – 7 students) of low-intensity exercise (no heavy respiration) with masks and adequate social distancing in a well-ventilated space.  Outdoor spaces should be away from buildings or tall structures that can block airflow and indoor spaces should have adequate ventilation (ventilation with outdoor air not recirculated) and filtration systems.


    What are you most looking forward to when life returns to some level of normalcy? How do you plan to welcome back your clients?


    I’m looking forward to resuming that sense of community that only seeing each other in-person can provide. We’ll begin by resuming classes and activities outdoors and proceed cautiously as far as indoor classes go until more is known. 


    Any last thoughts or advice to share with us as we endure the next few (hopefully) final months of restrictions and social distancing?


    I’m really impressed with how we’ve managed to get through this past year by stepping up and challenging ourselves to learn new ways of interacting, staying engaged, and staying active. It hasn’t been easy but we’ve done it and I think we all deserve to give ourselves a big pat on the back and a lot of credit for it. Finally, one of the unexpected outcomes of this pandemic has been the advances in Telehealth and the preponderance of online fitness classes.  These services have greatly expanded access to health and fitness services for many older adults and will continue to be a valuable resource in the future.