SAIL program helps seniors stay fit, active

By : 
Jordan Gerard

A new exercise program for those 55 and older is helping seniors become active and keep being active.

The Stay Active and Independent for Life (SAIL) is offered through Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota. Through grant funding and volunteers, the program and provided equipment is free for those who attend.

Active Aging Programs Administrator Sue Degallier said the program has had an overwhelming reponse in rural communities.

“We’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response, which has helped and fueled us to offer this program in more areas,” she said. “It’s partly the physical aspect that gets people going, and it’s also the social element that it offers them on a regular basis, specifically if it’s someone living alone.”

Many groups get together for coffee afterward or hang out outside of the class. Oftentimes, the groups send cards for those who are experiencing grief, a death in the family or recovering from surgery. Groups aren’t obligated to do this, but it’s often a result of friendships made at the class.

The program also suits the needs of many rural communities that might not have a fitness center. Many people attending the SAIL program in Spring Grove also go to the fitness center.

Volunteers through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) lead the class, which is held on Tuesdays and Fridays at the Spring Grove Manor, from 9 to 10 a.m. There is no cost to attend.

Spring Grove’s leaders are Joyce Bergrud, Betty Dokken, Donella Griffin and Nancy Kraus. Two more leaders, Jean Ellingson and Milly Halverson, are in the process of completing training and will also lead classes.

RSVP is also part of the same national program that runs Americorp. It’s a program for volunteers 55 and older and for non-profit groups. They provide mileage reimbursement, supplemental insurance and support of the non-profit organizations. They also work with Houston County Semcac.

Those who want to attend the class only need to come 10 minutes prior to class starting. There’s also no special commitment required. It can be attended as often or as little as people want.

There’s a consent form to fill out, but no payment or doctor recommendation is required. If attendees feel they need to consult their doctor before starting the class, they are welcome to. 

If a joint or limb hurts while doing exercises, they don’t have to do that particular exercise, or they can do a lighter set of weights.

A class consists of warm up, aerobic exercise, balance, strength training, stretching and education about fitness.

Attendees can participate at whatever level they want and whatever pace they want. If they do not feel comfortable doing an exercise, they don’t have to do it. 

“It’s movements that keep your body moving,” Bergrud said. “It’s not really intense. There’s no standing on heads.”

Exercises can also be adjusted for those who might not be able to stand or to the individual’s ability.

Attendees to the first two classes last week are enjoying the physical and social aspect of the class. Many arrived early to chat with friends.

“They seem to enjoy it,” Bergrud said. “We try to keep active in the community and be able to stay independent longer. We volunteer our time to do that, to help people.”

About SAIL

SAIL is a nationally recognized and evidence-based program developed by the Washington State Department of Health. The hour-long classes include low impact aerobics, balance exercises, strength training with dumbbells and ankle weights, and stretching exercises. 

The program is able to accommodate people with a mild level of mobility difficulty up to those who are regularly active.  The exercises focus on improving flexibility, bone and muscle strength, balance and overall fitness. 

A natural outcome of these fun classes is the beneficial social interaction provided along with the exercise.

Previously, Catholic Charities offered Bone Builders, but that has since been replaced with SAIL. About 16 counties across southern Minnesota currently utilize the program.