Kim Eichinger

Many seniors today are accustomed to an active lifestyle and wish to continue this lifestyle well into retirement age. But because of injury, chronic health issues or disease, exercise—traditional, land-based exercise—is out of the question.  

How can your community bridge this gap and offer this lucrative senior demographic a way to stay fit? Answer: With a warm-water pool, aquatics program and underwater treadmill with resistance jets. Here’s what Country Meadows in Leader Heights, PA found when we invested in and emphasized our aquatics program: 

Our word-of-mouth marketing increased.  Currently about 150 non-residents come regularly to our facility to use our pool and HydroWorx underwater treadmill. By reaching out to community members with these unique amenities, we experience enhanced local visibility. Area residents see what we have to offer, who we are and what we do. This “network” talks about us and refers others to our facility. Folks become familiar with us at a time when they are making care decisions for loved ones and possibly themselves.  

Walking on the treadmill produces better outcomes and mimics land-based walking better than walking in a pool. When walking laps in a pool, people tend to “toe walk.” The buoyancy lifts them on their toes and changes their posture and gate from their normal land-based walk, working different muscle groups from land-based walking. What we see with the powered underwater treadmill is totally different. The moving belt really encourages the proper heal-to-toe walk which stretches out the calf muscles and increases range of motion. Many of our residents walk with the assistance of a walker on land, but on the treadmill, we are able to reintroduce that natural swinging of the hips and movement of the arms, getting more movement in the trunk. They feel safe because of the buoyancy, support of the water and no risk of falling. This movement transfers correctly to land-based exercise and is invaluable.

Warm water pools are busy pools. We keep our pool heated to between 90 and 92 degrees Fahrenheit. Our pool is a very inviting place for anyone with stiff joints or health concerns to get the movement they need and start exercising again.  Our programs are packed and even start as early as 7 a.m. Residents and community members are very eager to come to our facility to get into the warm water. We see instant relaxation and hear the sighs of relief as individuals step into the water and move down into the pool.  

A gentleman we work with — a former runner — uses a cane to walk on land. When he tried the treadmill in the water the first time, he was able to walk unassisted, which was exciting for him. Then, over time, that walk led to a trot and now he is actually jogging in the water. He never thought he would run again. That’s been an incredible experience for all of us to see and has really boosted his quality of life.  

Water heals and soothes. Water buoyancy assists in de-weighting patients’ body mass, decreasing joint stress and making it easier and less painful for folks suffering from arthritis. Hydrostatic pressure decreases swelling and improves joint position awareness and posturing. Stretching in the water using the treadmill support bars significantly enhances flexibility and balance and the warm water simultaneously increases circulation. After an aquatic session on the underwater treadmill, residents feel soothed and refreshed.

Community outreach became an option. We also make our pool available to the local hospital for their pediatrics program. This has opened doors for us that were otherwise closed.  We’ve had the opportunity to build mutually beneficial relationships with outside organizations. The pool and underwater treadmill allow us to reach out to many resources that potentially refer us to their members or associates.

Kim Eichinger is the executive director of fitness for Country Meadows Retirement Communities and has been working in the fitness industry for over 30 years. Country Meadows operates 11 retirement communities in PA and MD and contributes to innovative aquatic programming in partnership with HydroWorx.