When most think of the FAU Owls Basketball Arena – affectionately known as “The Burrow” – we picture elite college athletes ferociously competing.
But three mornings per week – Monday, Wednesday and Friday – the venue transforms into a valuable community resource for local seniors.
And a real-life “classroom” for students.
For more than two decades, the Florida Atlanta University Department of Exercise Science and Health has been running the Well Program – a free, thrice-weekly exercise and health-monitoring program in which seniors exercise under the supervision of Department of Exercise Science and Health students and instructors.
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The students receive course credit – and, more importantly, “invaluable hands-on experience,” says FAU exercise science professor Sue Graves, who oversees the program.
“Both students and seniors have been singing the praises of this program for years,” says Graves. “The seniors love the camaraderie with other participants and the interaction with the students. Meanwhile, because this is an elective course – one that requires students be at the arena at 6:45 a.m – you know they really want to be there.”
In fact, jokes Graves, as each semester progresses, the intergenerational interplay gives everyone “extra grandparents and grandkids.”
But the priority, of course, is on maximizing the seniors’ health – which has proven remarkably effective.
For instance, one regular participant, Bonnie Striker, says she used to suffer from full-blown osteoporosis. However, since she began attending the sessions three years ago, she says her condition has improved to the point her doctor now deems it “pre-osteoporosis.”
Such stories are fairly common, notes Graves.
Part of the reason for the program’s high success rate is that all participants need to be medically cleared by their doctors before being accepted.
“We want to know what you can do – and can’t do,” she explains.
That means one’s medical/surgical history, current medications and an array of other information is available to the Well Program team.
How the program works
After receiving medical clearance, participants undergo a comprehensive fitness evaluation so that students and class supervisors know everyone’s strength, flexibility and aerobic abilities.
This enables every participant’s “exercise prescription” to be personalized.
Before and after every 90-minute session, students take and record participants’ vital signs.
“This gives us a great picture of how they respond to exercise,” explains Graves.
During the workouts, which include strength, flexibility and aerobic exercises, students again monitor and record how each participant is performing.
When participants are walking, they know 11 laps around the gym equals a mile. Along the way, there are multiple “exercise stations.”
”We want to encourage improvement – and be on the lookout for any decline,” Graves explains.
Indeed, Graves notes that many times over the years, students’ regular monitoring of participants have “caught things early – before the person was even symptomatic.”
But by and large, Graves says, participants’ health, fitness and overall well-being improve greatly from semester to semester.
And the bonds participants and students form are invaluable.
One student, Brandon Rhodes, is a pitcher on the baseball team and Graves says, “He now has a cheering section of seniors for him at every home game.”
Sounds like FAU’s Well Program is a home run in more ways than one.
FAU Well Program
What: A free thrice-weekly exercise program for seniors
When: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, 7 to 8:30 a.m.
Where: FAU Basketball Arena, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton
Contact: Call 561-297-2938 or 561-297-3752 or visit fau.edu to learn more