Finding Fitness Flexibility After 50

By Ann Satterfield

In a few short years, the number of group fitness classes held at the Elsie Stuhr Center in Beaverton, Ore, has doubled. It all began in 2005 after implementing the Senior Fitness Test (SFT) by Roberta Rikli and C. Jessie Jones in order to establish a baseline for interested participants. More than 100 people attended these events to see where they rated. Once they had the test results, they were directed to classes based on areas of interest or ones that provided some improvement.

The SFT is a simple, economical method of assessing the physical attributes that older adults need to perform daily activities. It usually consists of seven tests (we only used six)—covering lower- and upper-body strength, aerobic endurance, lower- and upper-body flexibility, agility, and balance. The tests can be conducted with minimal space, equipment, and technical requirements, making them easy to administer in most community settings.[i]

We staff members currently have fitness test results for more than 1,500 individuals. The SFT software produces reports for individuals and groups, both of which can be tracked.

In the beginning we tested quarterly to ensure participants were maintaining functional fitness. After 6 months, we realized the need for more dynamic balance in the classes (i.e., A-Z: aerobics to Zumba). Shortly after adding more aspects of balance, 75 percent of participants either maintained or improved their functional fitness. That level of effectiveness has been ongoing for the past 7 years.

In order to make sure we were focusing on functional fitness, we evaluated all of our programs in several ways:

1. Self-evaluation by the participants

2. Evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of the exercises by a physical therapist

3. The SFT itself.

RE-AIM For Results

We have used the “RE-AIM” model as a framework for consistent reporting of research results.

The overall goal of the framework is to encourage program planners, evaluators, readers of journal articles, funders, and policy-makers to pay more attention to essential program elements, including external validity that can improve the sustainable adoption and implementation of effective, evidence-based interventions. Five RE-AIM elements refer to key steps in translating research into action:

• Reaching the target population

• Effectiveness or efficacy

• Adoption by target settings or institutions

• Consistency of implementation

• Maintenance of intervention effects in individuals and settings over time.[ii]

When using “RE-AIM,” the center has shown success in reach and effectiveness. The fitness staff, participants, and the organization have implemented the SFT every 6 months. Participants have been educated on the importance of evaluating the classes to see if they are meeting their needs. By identifying their own strengths and weaknesses, they can choose classes accordingly. Participants learn about lifestyle habits that maintain or improve health and functional ability.

We include information about exercise, nutrition, self-care, and medical self-care that supports and safeguards independent living skills.

Four Levels Of Fitness
Classes focus on different functional areas (strength, flexibility, aerobic health, and dynamic balance), and the center addresses four levels of fitness adapted from the International Council on Active Aging:

1.      Chair Fitness—For individuals who have not been physically active for a while.

2.      Entry Level—For those who live independently and seek to improve overall health and well-being. These classes are for beginners or those returning to exercise. They include basic steps, a gentle pace, and lower intensity, and may also include light strength and stretching exercises.

3.      Intermediate Level—For individuals who are physically active at least twice a week and seek to improve their health and well-being. Classes include moderate intensity, low-impact exercise. Moderate strength and stretching exercises and optional floor work may be added.

4.      Advanced Level—For individuals who train almost every day, compete in a sport, or do a physically demanding job. It includes a higher intensity, low-impact workout, a more challenging strength and conditioning portion, and floor work.

Growing And Expanding
The center’s staff members also have developed many classes to improve the health of individuals with chronic conditions. The Diabetes Intervention & Prevention (DIP) class has enabled participants to better manage and lower their blood sugar and A1C; increase lean, metabolic muscle tissue; and reduce the amount of body fat (as well as improve functional fitness). An Essential Balance and Mobility class aims to reduce and prevent falls and injuries. With 90 percent of 911 calls in the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue District coming from fall-related injuries, we have tried to address this community issue head on. We have also added a Breast Cancer Recovery Exercise class based on the latest American College of Sports Medicine guidelines. 

We have also added a Flexibility Focus class because several participants had very high marks in strength and aerobic capacity, but only average marks in flexibility. Many participants want to be in the top 95 percent in their age group for all aspects of functional fitness.

The next step is to offer classes and programs at other locations throughout the district in order to expand what we have already established. The Wellness On Wheels van is being initiated, and we hope to write about more success stories next year.

The SFT does much more than bring new people into the center. The program actually helps in the continuous evaluation of classes and programs that are offered so that the organization meets the needs of its patrons and is a motivator for them to stay with their fitness program.

Ann Satterfield is the Health & Wellness Program Coordinator for the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District’s Elsie Stuhr Center in Beaverton, Ore. Reach her at (503) 629-6342, or

Program Accomplishments

·        15,000 group fitness-class visits occur each quarter.

·        More than 1,000 individuals were enrolled in the group fitness-classes in the last year.

·        Over 90 fitness classes a week are held for adults ages 55 and better with four levels of fitness.

·        All fitness staff members have additional certification(s) in teaching older adult fitness classes.

·        A wide range of ages is present: 25 percent of participants are 55- 65 years, 40 percent are ages 66-75, and 35 percent are ages 75 years or better.

·        The Senior Fitness Test has been implemented in all fitness classes for the past 7 years.

·        75 percent of participants are able to either maintain or improve the functional fitness levels in six measurements of the SFT.

·        22 percent of participants have just begun taking classes, 27 percent have been participating 1 to 2

·        years, and 51 percent have been participating for 3 years or more.

·        Inclusion services for participants with disabilities are offered.