WestConn Offers Strength Training Courses For Older Adults, People with Disabilities

Vintage strength training equipment, courtesy of Wikimedia commons


Dr. Jeff Schlicht of the Health Promotion & Exercise Sciences Department at WCSU has been interested in strength training for older adults since graduate school. While still in school, he started his first community strength-training program. Dr. Schlicht has brought his passion for the subject to Western Connecticut State University, where he oversees two low-cost strength-training courses: one for older adults, and one for people with disabilities. Both classes meet three times a week. Students from WCSU help teach the classes, giving them valuable experience working with underserved groups.

For the older adults class, Dr. Schlicht’s main goal is to help participants remain independent and able to live in their own homes. Preserving muscle mass is key to this mission. If muscle mass is allowed to deteriorate, day-to-day physical tasks can become too difficult over time. “Muscle mass is the big thing at that age in terms of independence,” said Schlicht.

Older adults in the class work with dumbbells and perform regular exercises. Dr. Schlicht focuses on older adults’ competencies and abilities rather than their limitations. “I emphasize the idea that older adults are still adults and that, unless they have a health problem, they can do most of the things that other people can do,” said Schlicht. “I see a lot of older adult classes where they have them in chairs and not doing enough because of an overabundance of caution,” he said. Dr. Schlicht encourages older adults to work hard and use more weight if an exercise becomes too easy for them.

The benefit for older adults isn’t just physical health alone. There is also a social aspect to the classes. Studies have shown that social interaction is essential for longevity and quality of life. “If you have social interactions through an exercise class or community center activity, it helps you maintain that social connection. They have formed a community of people in this class,” said Schlicht.

For participants in the Ability Beyond training program, social interaction also plays an important part. “It is a psychological initiative in addition to physical,” said Schlicht. The program helps participants’ mental and social wellbeing by getting them out of their normal routine. The physical goal for participants in this program is to preserve range of motion. “For us, the focus is having them do physical movement patterns they don’t do during their day-to-day life,” said Schlicht.

Interested in signing up? Contact department secretary Karen Ferraro at ferrarok@wcsu.edu.


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