Oct. 1, 2003
Their goals relate more to improved balance and posture than the sculpted bodies and muscle prowess portrayed in most Bowflex commercials.
But these Bowflex exercise equipment users are just as faithful, determined and anxious to see benefit from their strength training program as anyone -- ranging in age from 67-93, they just happen to be a bit older than Bowflex's target market.
"Everyone's enjoying it," Alice Wheeler, a resident at Sears Heritage Place, said over her shoulder, just before asking instructor Kerri Hart, "Now, which of these exercises will make my shoulders straighter?"
The thrice-weekly exercise program, the equipment and the instruction for these mature work-out clients is a result of the grant proposal and research idea of Dr. Curt Dickson, professor of exercise science and health at Abilene Christian University, who proposed and received a $25,000 grant from Bowflex to research strength training for the elderly.
"The hook I used was that the Bowflex infomercials focus on 'hard bodies' and ignore a fairly large market -- elderly people," Dickson said."The medical director liked my approach and put me in touch with their marketing director, and the rest is history."
Along with a research team including two other exercise science professors, a gerontology professor and three exercise science students, Dickson began two weeks ago working with residents at two Abilene retirement facilities -- Sears Heritage Place and Christian Village -- on strength training using Bowflex equipment. The program will continue through December.
Hart, instructor of exercise science and health at ACU, works with about 20 residents at Sears Heritage Place on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, while Dickson works with about the same number at Christian Village on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. Dr. C. D. Pruett, director of ACU's Pruett Gerontology Center, joins in by surveying the residents' satisfaction with their quality of life before and after the strength training program to measure any change.
"I'm hoping to show that elderly persons can experience significant gains in strength with systematic use of Bowflex equipment," Dickson said. "We've had therapists evaluate the subjects' balance, and Dr. Pruett provided a questionnaire related to the individual's satisfaction with current life. It's possible that increased strength will improve both physical balance and satisfaction with daily life."
So far, it looks like that hypothesis is right on.
"I can feel the pressure when I¹m doing it," said Cliff Thornton, president of the residents' association at Sears Heritage Place. "Not a bad pressure; I think it's something I really needed. I walk every day, but you can't get everything done by walking."
The strength training may even offer benefits that the elderly need more than most.
"It reminds me to keep my shoulders straight. So many of us here have rounded shoulders. That's something I really want to work on," Wheeler said. "But it also just makes you feel better. It should improve my breathing, and I hope it will even help me lose weight too."
Wheeler said she chose to participate in the program as soon as she heard about it because she saw an opportunity she doesn't normally have.
"Immediately, I knew this was something I needed terribly. It fills a need. It was something I knew I was needing but just couldn'¹t seem to get."