Healthy Aging

Riverside Seniors Take a Healthy Step With Fitness Program

etiree Charles Randolph has found a healthy spring in his step, courtesy of the Riverside Walkers for Health and Fun Program. The health and fitness program of the City of Riverside’s Department of Park and Recreation combats the serious problem of sedentary lifestyles among older adults.

Randolph is one of many Riverside senior citizens who have benefited from the program, which was created in 1999 with funding from the California State Department of Health Services’ Active Aging Project.

TCWF provided a two-year, $90,000 grant to fund the Riverside Walkers for Health and Fun Program, which offers individualized fitness programs for seniors. Programs vary among participants, but activities include organized group walks, health education, weight training, health assessments and low-impact exercise classes like tai chi. 

“The program was good —I became more aware of the benefits of physical activity and good nutrition,” said program participant Randolph, a 69-year-old diabetic. “The personal contact was great and it inspired me to learn more about my disease and get more control of my lifestyle.”

To keep participants motivated, the program pairs each senior with a volunteer mentor who uses telephone and in-person communication to keep tabs on the participant’s progress.

“Most of the research we have read says that when people start up physical activity programs, they usually stop within 90 days,” said Mary Martinez, recreation services coordinator with the Riverside Department of Park and Recreation. “With mentoring, they have someone constantly checking in on them. It keeps people involved and motivations high.”

The program specifically targets underserved people in two Riverside communities: Casa Blanca, which is home to many Latinos, and the East Side, which is predominantly Latino and African American. Research has demonstrated that underserved people of color are at higher risk for many health problems than their white counterparts, and they often face barriers accessing programs and opportunities for physical fitness and health education. 

The Riverside Walkers for Health and Fun Program tries to ensure that its activities are culturally sensitive. One recent workshop, for example, taught seniors how to cook healthy soul food. The program currently serves approximately 117 participants and has a goal to increase that number to 250.

Central to the program is preventing many chronic and disabling conditions through the promotion of regular physical activity, which also increases participants’ abilities to perform activities of daily living.

“We see people who are 80 years old who benefit from physical activity,” Martinez said. “It’s never too late, no matter what their lifestyle may have been in the past.”

Summer 2002


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