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Editorial: An actively aging life

American culture is obsessed with aging, and there are lots of ways people deal with it. Some people face it with indifference; life happens and they can't do much to change it. Others see aging as a battle to be fought and won, and spend all they can on cosmetic procedures to regain the waistlines of their youth or the wrinkle-free skin of a twenty-something.

I’ve been the wellness director at Buckner Villas, a senior living community in Austin, for four years. I’ve always had a heart for seniors. They are not trying to impress anyone with what they have or how they look and that shows in their approach to wellness. They work out for the right reasons (not to get buff or lose weight) but to maintain their independence, stay as strong as possible and as agile as possible, so they can move through their days with ease and comfort. They know if they don't exercise, their quality of life, ease of movement, mental fortitude and independence will diminish.

I remember the first time I met Bernie Stratman, a retired Austin dentist who had just moved into Buckner Villas with his wife. He had had a stroke and was infected by West Nile virus. He was in a motorized scooter and thought he’d never work out again.

We found he could use many of the Technogym machines. Slowly he began using machines to rebuild his strength. Today he is so proud of how far he has come. He can get in and out of his chair with relative ease. He can get in and out of bed much easier than before. It is so rewarding to share in people’s physical victories.

His story shows no matter your age or physical limitations, there are always things you can do to get stronger and improve the quality of life. That is my mission and the reason why I love celebrating Active Aging Week.

September 21-29 is Active Aging Week, created by the International Council on Active Aging. The weeklong observance celebrates adults 50 and older as active, vibrant members of society and encourages them to lead healthy lives as they grow older. At Buckner Villas, we will celebrate with healthy treats, fitness-inspired documentaries, brain teaser games and more, but we also emphasize that it’s not just about an active aging week – it’s about an actively aging life.

According to the Administration on Aging, people are living longer and there is a huge demographic shift happening in our country as the Baby Boomers hit retirement age. The population of senior adults is expected to double over the next 10 years. In Austin alone, adults over 55 make up almost 19 percent of the population (from the 2012 Austin Community Survey website).

Senior adults face some health challenges younger people don’t often think about. According to the Centers for Disease Control, falling is a huge risk to someone over the age of 65 and one in three fall each year. Not only are falls the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries but they’re also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.

One of the most significant ways to prevent falls is to exercise regularly to increase leg strength and to improve balance. Not only does it help to prevent falls but exercising also improves heart health and helps stave off weight gain and obesity.

Here at Buckner Villas, we have 100 independent dwellings, and 73 households use the wellness center on a consistent basis. That's a pretty high percentage especially considering most are 85 and older. I doubt 73 percent of my neighborhood of single family homes practice wellness activities on a consistent basis. And that's in Austin, one of the top 10 fittest cities in the U.S.

Gone are the days of institution-like nursing facilities with elders lining the halls in wheelchairs and walkers. Every day I see seniors competing in Wii bowling competitions, taking Tai Chi classes or learning to zumba. It’s a new era in senior living and in order to fruitful, it has to be active.

Holly Jones is the wellness director at Buckner Villas, a senior living community in Austin.

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