More seniors in motion

Clo Wiltse, 74, appears to be a sweet woman -- until she starts talking about her Tae Bo aerobic boxing class.

"When the class is over, I say, 'I'm going to step over all of the dead bodies,'" she said as her husband, Gary, laughed knowingly.

There may be a lot more like her at Brandon Wilde retirement community soon with a new expansion and trends that appear to favor more active senior citizens in the future.

Brandon Wilde won approval last week to start a $26 million expansion, its first since 1995. The first phase will include 10 new cottages, 30 new apartments and, what's most important for some current residents, an expanded Wellness Center with a much larger pool.

"The demand has kind of grown on us as we've used every available space we have for the wellness programming," said Richard Kisner, the president and CEO of Brandon Wilde. "We're using today some of our auditorium space for exercise programs in the morning because it is the only space we have that is large enough for people to stretch out and spread out and exercise."

Likewise with the pool.

"It is tiny," Mr. Wiltse said.

It also needs a ramp so more physically challenged residents can participate in water exercises, Mr. Kisner said.

Residents know demand for wellness programs will only increase, said Paul F. Allmendinger, the president of the Resident Council.

"The people that come in we think generally will be more active and perhaps in better health than we were," he said. "But we're in pretty good health."

Statistics bear him out. The number of seniors with chronic disability dropped from 26 percent in 1982 to 19 percent in 2004-05, according to the National Long-Term Care Survey, funded by the National Institute on Aging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2006 that about a third of seniors were physically active, a figure health advocates would like to improve.

"In some regards, the challenge to get more older adults active continues and, of course, it's a problem for people of any age," said Chhanda Dutta, the chief of the clinical gerontology branch at the National Institute on Aging. Some people still think of seniors as frail and fear exercise would do more harm than good, when the opposite is true, she said.

Inactivity increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and loss of muscle, she said.

Retired Judge David Allard took up running at age 62 -- nearly 18 years ago -- when he was facing prostate cancer.

"I didn't know if I was going to live or die, and I decided that I had always wanted to do something," he said. Then he laughed. "Now I run because I'm afraid to stop."

Whatever the motivation, Dr. Dutta said, programs that encourage not only aerobic fitness but also resistance training and balance will help seniors.

"From that standpoint, it will keep people healthier," she said.

The Wiltses were ranchers in Montana and studied 72 retirement communities across the country before settling on Brandon Wilde in 1999, Mrs. Wiltse said. The wellness programs were one reason, but other services are nice, too, she said.

"You've got your entertainment; you've got your food; you've got your housekeeping; you've got wonderful fitness programs," she said. "I consider it a continual cruise."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.