November 18, 2016 8:00 am
Updated: November 21, 2016 12:23 pm

United Way funds programs to help BC seniors stay active


Helen Ross, 78, started having health problems and her doctor suggested she investigate the Fun, Food and Fitness program run by the Seniors Services Society in New Westminster. It changed her life.

“I had a spell of gout and that motivated me to do something,” said Helen. “At first I didn’t know it was serious, I just thought it was a pain. When you bear the pain for so long, you are inured to it, but then when you start cleaning up, you can actually feel relief and you feel you can walk a little bit better.”

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She took osteofit classes, participated in Nordic walking outings and learned through their farmers’ market program how she could change her diet to control her gout.

Staying active is the key to a long and healthy life which is why United Way of the Lower Mainland teamed up with Active Aging BC to fund programs such as the ones in New Westminster along with dozens of others across British Columbia to increase seniors’ physical activity.

“As we age, physical activity to enhance mobility is key to maintaining independence and quality of life,” said Joanie Sims-Gould, Executive Director, Active Aging BC, Centre for Hip Health and Mobility. “A large percentage of older adults’ social connectedness is based on leisure activities. We know that for people over age 60, social isolation and feelings of loneliness are related to physical inactivity.”

Helen’s advice to other seniors? “Get active. Look after yourself. Watch what you’re eating as you get older. Participate. Communicate. Get involved.”

Enjoying each other’s company at a seniors lunch program in Burnaby funded by United Way.

That exactly what 65-year-old Terri Myer of Bear Lake did after she heard on the radio about a program for seniors called Getting Active, Getting Informed at the Prince George Native Friendship Centre. She took her husband there in April and they have been regulars ever since.

“It gets you out of the house doing things that you wouldn’t have done before because you always put it off,” she said.

The couple attends regular workshops geared toward educating seniors on things like how to avoid falls, disaster preparedness and many other timely topics, but they also go out on a variety of fun outings.

“It shows you different things you can do that are not hard to do and are geared to seniors. It gets you more active. So many seniors sit around and just turn on the TV and don’t do anything,” she said.

“You don’t want to just sit around and have all kinds of health issues because you’re not moving around so you get out and you do things that help you stay healthier. Everyone has health problems as they get older, but it keeps you a lot healthier if you can be active rather than sitting around.”

The programs in Prince George are possible thanks to the 30 “Seniors Active Aging” grants distributed in 27 communities throughout the province by United Way of the Lower Mainland and Active Aging BC to fund a wide range of activities and programs designed to keep older adults active as they age.

Having fun and making friends playing bingo at a seniors program in Mount Pleasant funded by United Way.

“The overall goal of these grants is to increase seniors’ level of physical activity in order to improve social connections, increase level of independence, and improve seniors’ well-being and quality of life,” said Michael McKnight, President and CEO, United Way of the Lower Mainland.

Another organization that was a recipient of the grants was the Hardy Bay Senior Citizens Society on Vancouver Island. That’s where Candace, 57, participates in a program to promote active aging for seniors that provides social meals, outings and games that keep the local seniors’ community connected and active.

Compared to a lot of other people at the center, Candace is relatively young, but she has to deal with the effects of multiple sclerosis.

“I call myself a senior-in-training, because the MS boots me up there a lot faster, but I can still help them and volunteer with them,” she said.

“I used to be a helper all the time, but I have to learn to be a helpee because of the MS sometimes, but this way I can still pretend I’m a helper even though I do less because of my mobility issues, but I still have a good spirit.”

Candace wishes more people would volunteer to help seniors stay active.

“We want to keep people out of the old folks’ homes and the hospitals,” said Candace. “We want to help people as much as they can to be able to stay home and be active.”

“Active aging means participation. Keep your mind active. You may be 70, 80 or 90 years old, but you’re still valued and you can give something back to society. We’re hoping that perhaps we’ll have more young people join and learn how to volunteer and it would just be great for society,” she said.

Shi participates in a seniors program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside funded by United Way.

At 76, Lynn had been active as a volunteer at the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House in Vancouver for years, but health problems kept her house-bound and away from the community centre. That changed when she heard about their pole-walking club.

“Because I have a back problem, the balance walking has been very helpful to me,” said Lynn. It got her out of the house and now she has even joined a chair-yoga class and resumed line-dancing classes, one of her favourite activities at the centre.

“While we are aging, we have to be active. We need to keep going,” said Lynn. “I struggled for many years because of my back problem. Exercise is what keeps me busy. I have been going to the gym for three years now.”

Now that she’s back at the community centre, Lynn can continue her volunteering.

“I volunteer, although I have my own limitations. I don’t do go out and do outreach to people because of my back problem and walking is not easy for me so if there is any other little thing that I can do to volunteer, I do it, like making phone calls,” she said.

She also encourages other seniors to stay active. “If I encounter anyone saying they would rather stay home, I would encourage them to go because we need to keep our bodies and minds working. When you are getting old, you are not going forward, you are falling backward if you don’t make use of your mind and body. Don’t be a rocking-chair grandma at home.”

United Way of the Lower Mainland helps build strong communities; communities where people feel connected and supported. If you would like to support United Way of the Lower Mainland, they can give at

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