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Seniors lose weight, become active with fitness program

A Center Communities of Brookline class engages (top, from left) Shirley Tarnapol, Beatrice Tamukong, Marion Gerauld and Judy Berkowitz, and Zina Elkin (below).

Photos by Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

A Center Communities of Brookline class engages (top, from left) Shirley Tarnapol, Beatrice Tamukong, Marion Gerauld and Judy Berkowitz, and Zina Elkin (below).

At Center Communities of Brookline, 78-year-old Joseph Lo Piccolo is about to begin a goal-orientated fitness program that has shown to be transformative for other seniors in the Boston area. He is ready to lose weight and change his life.

Lo Piccolo, a retired social worker carrying 300 pounds on his 6-foot frame, said he has set weight-loss goals in the past, but lacked the support structure and motivation to get it done.

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“I have found that as you get older and fatter, your horizons diminish. It is harder to get up and do things. If you get rid of your potbelly, that does a lot,” he said with frank humor.

“It’s an effort. You set down goals and then you forget them, especially at our age.”

Center Communities of Brookline, along with NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham, and the Jack Satter House in Revere, is launching a wellness program called Vitality 360, which uses computerized tools to evaluate and track the physical, emotional, and mental health of seniors, and helps them meet individual goals with personal coaching and follow-up. The collected information is contributed to a national database of research.

Vitality 360 is part of an ambitious project called Collage, which was created in 2003 as a joint venture between Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research, a nonprofit affiliated with Harvard Medical School, and Kendal Outreach, a nonprofit arm of the Kendal Corp., a system of services and communities for older adults in eight states. Collage has been developing a suite of assessment tools and programs, such as Vitality 360, to optimize well-being for older adults.

With people living longer and elder-housing providers looking to improve their offerings to seniors seeking active lives, Vitality 360 offers data, via Collage, showing that the goal-setting program improves health and life satisfaction among residents.

‘It is not just about what happened in their lives but what will happen.’

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Over the past three years, the pilot program has established a track record at Orchard Cove in Canton. Ninety percent of the community’s 240 residents joined Vitality 360, and the number of residents exercising climbed from 30 percent to more than 75 percent.

The program is also operating at Kendal at Hanover, N.H., a retirement community near Dartmouth College.

The aim is to change the way we think about aging, said John N. Morris, director of social and health policy research at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research. Collage has gathered health and wellness profiles on more than 10,000 adults 65 and older at 60 retirement communities and senior housing areas in 20 states, he said.

At Orchard Cove, the residents are more upbeat, active, and happier with life after embracing fitness and other challenging goals as participants in Vitality 360, according to Morris.

“This is a revolutionary concept. It is about reaching out to healthy elders and asking, ‘How can we go forward in a way that might work differently?’ ” he said.

Aline Russotto, executive director of Orchard Cove, a Hebrew SeniorLife community, said it has been exciting to track the health and wellness benefits for seniors participating in Vitality 360. “We are seeing a tremendous increase in our fitness programs because seniors want to possess the physical capacity to do the things they care about,” she said.

“Our program is raising the bar for seniors,” Russotto said. “At this stage in life, seniors are dealing with loss — loss of role, loss of family, loss of friends, loss of spouse. We help to empower them again. We focus on what they can still do. They can still have goals. It is not just about what happened in their lives but what will happen, and how they can direct that.”

A lifelong fitness enthusiast, Orchard Cove resident Sylvia Namyet, 88, supplemented her regular yoga practice with new routines to help with her sense of balance. Her long-term goal involved making a solo trip to visit adult children in Oregon and California. After a year of physical conditioning, she finally did it last year, the first time she had traveled alone in 45 years.

A year ago, Natalie Waterman, 86, also at Orchard Cove, started exercising on a daily basis. She dropped more than 30 pounds, putting an end to years of immobility and isolation following a hip injury at 81. Waterman now favors New Balance sneakers and exercise classes that fit her busy schedule. She has become a socialite within the community., and she rarely spends a day alone.

Vitality 360 begins with a one-hour conversation with a personal coach, and Namyet said it helped her imagine a future. “I realized what they are telling us is so true — it is nice to look on our lives, if we’re lucky, but we have to now sit down and look at our future and literally plan a goal,” she said.

In Brookline, Lo Piccolo said the personal coaching offered through the program is bound to help seniors become more active. He said seniors can end up feeling cast adrift without the routines of work and child rearing, and it is easy to end up “an introverted couch potato.” Breaking the pattern requires the support offered by this type of structured program, he said.

Now that Vitality 360 has arrived, Chris Young, fitness director for Center Communities of Brookline, which encompasses 517 apartments in three buildings at locations near Coolidge Corner and Washington Square, said he expects residents will achieve a success similar to what has been seen at Orchard Cove.

“I think we will see more participation in our fitness programs across the board,” he said, adding the Brookline facility recently hired its own Vitality 360 coach to guide residents.

For Lo Piccolo and his wife, Angela, 82, the program offers an opportunity to lead a bigger life. Aside from weight loss, Lo Piccolo has set a loftier goal: the development of deeper friendships with other seniors.

“We’re really looking forward to this,” he said.

Meg Murphy can be reached at msmegmurphy@gmail.com.
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