Get fit to prevent falls is focus of new Benton County program

EnhanceFitness classes focus on reducing falls

When Zenaida Myers of Pasco took her 87-year-old mother to a new fitness class, she wasn’t planning to participate.

But the 65-year-old said she and her mom both have benefited from the balance and strengthening class called EnhanceFitness.

She said her mother Maria Austria of Kennewick fell three times last year, but thanks to the class, she’s beginning to feel stronger.

Falls send thousands of senior citizens to the hospital every year, especially in Benton County, which has one of the highest rates of fall-related hospitalizations in the state.

From 2010-15, the county recorded 1,897 per 100,000 people age 60 and older who were hospitalized after a fall, according to the state Department of Health.

That’s why the EnhanceFitness classes are being offered for free to those 65 and older in Kennewick, Richland and Prosser, thanks to a state Department of Health grant administered through Southeast Washington Aging & Long Term Care Council of Government, or ALTC.

It’s part of a five-year statewide action plan to reduce the rate of falls-related hospitalizations by 5 percent and falls-related deaths by 3 percent among older adults.

EnhanceFitness classes also are available in Pasco, but there’s a fee as they’re administered through the city of Pasco.

The hourlong classes focus on increasing senior citizens’ strength and balance, which can help to prevent falls. The evidence-based falls prevention and physical activity program is developed specifically for older adults.

“We’re trying to implement falls prevention and hopefully we can make an impact on some of the falls data that is high for our area to reduce hospitalizations and death rates,” said Emily Watts, program manager for ALTC.

The Yakima-based ALTC promotes and develops a comprehensive system of services to help meet the needs of older adults and adults with disabilities in an eight-county area: Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Kittitas, Walla Walla, and Yakima counties.

“Four of our counties fall in top 10 for falls for over 65 and Benton County is one of them,” Watts said.

The three-day-a-week fitness program welcomes those using walkers or canes. Cuff weights that strap onto ankles or wrists are supplied and used during class.

A typical class includes a short warmup followed by 20 minutes of aerobics, a short cooldown, 20 minutes of strength training and ends with a 10-minute stretch.

Pat Hoinacki, 69, of West Richland, recently completed training to be an EnhanceFitness instructor after learning about it as an advisory board member of Southeast Washington ALTC.

Susan Rimpler, left, leads seniors through weight-bearing exercises during a recent EnhanceFitness class in Kennewick. (Photo by Kristina Lord)

The program is a way for Hoinacki to do what she does best: take care of people. She is a retired school and hospice nurse.

“I just really like keeping people healthy; it’s just something I do,” she said. “It’s an opportunity at this point in my life – since I’ve aged out of hands-on nursing – to help people stay healthy. At my age level, I feel like I can set a good example. I really enjoy every day I’m there and I really enjoy fitness.”

She’s even recruited her husband – who hasn’t been keen on a regular exercise routine – to take her class.

“It is a really good thing for men and women. The program is aimed to address all fitness levels; it welcomes the frail or the non-exerciser. They would be our ideal candidate,” Hoinacki said.

Hoinacki said the class is taught at two levels, seated or standing.

“Attendance is the most important thing to be successful with strength and balance training,” Hoinacki said.
Myers said the class has helped her: “I feel like I have more energy now and am able to move around better,” she said.

Austria said she appreciates the social aspect of the class as well.

Maximum class enrollment is 25.

EnhanceFitness registration

To sign up for the free Kennewick class, which runs from 11 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday, call 509-554-4636 or email enhance0219@gmail.com.

To sign up for the free Richland class, which runs from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, call 509-438-9470 or email rimpler411@hotmail.com.

To sign up for the free Prosser class, which runs from 2 to 3 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, call 509-396-8276 or email EnhanceFitnessProsser@gmail.com.

To sign up for the Pasco class, which runs from 10 to 11 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, call 509-545-3459 or recreation@pasco-wa.gov. Cost is $33 for Pasco residents, $41 for others.

More programs coming

More programs will be rolled out in the next four years to reduce the rate of falls in the region.

Watts said Matter of Balance, an 8-week structured group intervention that emphasizes practical strategies to reduce fear of falling and increase activity levels, will be offered in the coming fiscal year.  

ALTC also will offer the Otago Exercise Program, a series of 17 strength and balance exercises delivered by a physical therapist or a physical therapy assistant in the home, outpatient or community setting. The program reduces falls between 35 percent and 40 percent for frail older adults, according to the state’s falls prevention plan.

Instructors sought

Watts said instructors are needed to offer more EnhanceFitness classes, especially bilingual English-Spanish teachers. They receive a stipend for their work.

“We want to implement more classes in Benton and Franklin counties and especially implement a bilingual class. We’re looking for fitness instructors or group exercise leadership to continue to grow the program,” she said.

Interested trainers and group exercise leaders, may email résumés to SEWAALTCEmployment@dshs.wa.gov.

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