Exercise Science Students Help Host Fitness Fair for Senior Citizens

Exercise science students Jessica Giammattei and Connor Frizzell check the blood pressure of Watermark at 3030 Park residents at the Vitality Fitness Health Fair.

News Story: April 30, 2015

A group of 19 students in Professor Peter Ronai’s Exercise and Aging class at Sacred Heart University put their fitness-evaluation skills to the ultimate test as leaders of the Vitality Fitness Health Fair on Friday, April 24, at the Watermark at 3030 Park retirement community’s fitness center in Bridgeport.

Wearing Pioneer-red polo shirts, students greeted about 100 senior citizens from the Watermark and the surrounding community during the two-hour event. Visitors received a map highlighting a series of stations set up to evaluate their health and fitness. Two Sacred Heart students were kept busy at each station, testing balance, gait speed, hand grip strength, body composition, short physical performance, blood pressure and how fast each senior could complete the “gallon jug transfer test.”

Visitors could also get a chair massage, learn about the importance of proper footwear, speak to a Reiki master about spiritual healing and spin the “brain fitness challenge wheel” to test their mental agility.

At the handgrip strength station, exercise science major Preston Sanford ’15 led 90-year-old Olga Piazza through the test. “You fall right in the medium category. That’s very good,” Sanford said.

Piazza gave Sanford and the other students high marks for their efforts at the health fair. “I think it’s good for them, and it’s good for us. I hope we’re helping them with what they’re learning,” she said.

The students worked closely with Watermark Fitness Director Cynthia McGuire to plan the event as a class project incorporating testing techniques Ronai taught in class. In addition, 24 students from the class have volunteered at the center throughout the semester as part of the learning-service component of the Exercise and Aging class, offered in the College of Health Professions. Students are asked to volunteer 10 to 15 hours a week at the Watermark or another fitness center that serves seniors.

Students have assisted with a cardiac rehab phase three program, taken blood pressure readings, worked with a strength-training instructor and helped McGuire run a special class for those with Parkinson’s disease. The Watermark includes communities for independent living, assisted living and memory care. McGuire estimated that 75 percent of those in the independent-living residence use the fitness center, which offers 25 classes a week.

Many of the students are exercise science majors who plan to attend graduate school and go on to careers in physical therapy. “So anything they can learn here will help them decide if this is a good fit for them. They’re surprised to see what a lot of the residents can do,” said McGuire, an adjunct professor who teaches the anatomy and physiology labs class.

Exercise science major Erika Doyle ’15, who will enroll in Sacred Heart’s graduate program in physical therapy next year, said many of the students have gone beyond the required time commitment at the Watermark—simply because they enjoy helping out and seeing how much the seniors benefit from exercise and socializing.

“We’ve taken part in a lot of the fitness classes here and gotten to know the residents,” she said.

McGuire proclaimed the health fair a great success, due in large part to the students’ eager engagement with the seniors. “The residents thought it was wonderful, and they were extremely happy with the results that were given to them at each of the fitness stations. Kudos to the SHU students,” she said.

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