New Fitness Programs Bring Slice of Normalcy Back to Daily Life

The day’s fitness class begins at 10:00 a.m. Yet by 9:25, residents have already begun making their way down to the Wintergarden to claim their seats. Ever since programming has slowly started to resume across St. John’s independent living communities, social distancing guidelines limit the number of participants in common spaces. Still, this reduced capacity is not the only reason interested participants are enthusiastically arriving early.

On this particular September Friday morning, residents at Brickstone by St. John’s will try an exercise class that is brand new to them. “Drum fitness” involves using a pair of drumsticks to strike a stability ball, giving participants a full body workout. This offering is just the latest in a series of fitness programs rolled out at Chestnut Court, Briarwood, the Hawthorne, and Brickstone. And while having a large inflatable ball between your legs during an entire workout might seem odd at first, you get the feeling that a true sense of normalcy is returning for these residents.

Jodi Brodzinski believes that her arrival at St. John’s has come at an opportune time. She took on the job of wellness specialist at St. John’s Meadows in late July—over four months after the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of all in-person resident activities. “Things have been opening up safely and gradually here,” says Jodi. “It is a wonderful opportunity to start fresh. And they (independent and assisted living residents) have never had a wellness specialist before.”

After 40 years as a fitness instructor, aquatic trainer, and physical education teacher—the last seven of those years working almost exclusively with the senior population—Jodi  brings a unique perspective on health and wellness to this brand new role at St. John’s. After months of inactivity, she knows it will take a consistent effort to help many residents get back the strength and stamina they lost over the early part of 2020. “I tell people ‘it doesn’t matter what you were able to do before. Where can we build from today?’” says Jodi.

An internet search during the height of the pandemic in New York State would bring hits to dozens of articles and videos showing exercises a person could do while in isolation to stay in shape. While those resources were certainly helpful for some people, the missing element for many was the motivation that comes from working with an in-person instructor.

Since Jodi’s arrival, the passion she brings to her work is palpable. That enthusiasm has also been contagious. “She’s wonderful,” says Brickstone resident Carol Bradshaw.

Fellow resident Geneva Stokes agrees. “And the energy she brings. You’re sore afterwards, but never in pain.”

There has, of course, been a major emphasis on safety throughout the implementation of these new fitness programs. “We are all six feet apart,” explains Jodi. “We are wearing our masks and bringing our water bottles. We’re adhering to all of the rules.” As an expert with four decades of experience leading fitness classes, Jodi also knows that it is important for people of any age to get back into the swing of regular exercise.  “We are coming off of four months of inactivity—and that can really be considered atrophy,” she says. She notes the importance of having a watchful eye like hers to ensure that exercises are done correctly and safely.

For her part, Jodi is excited to be where she is and to witness the strides she has already seen residents make.  She references those “A-ha moments” that make her job so rewarding.  “What is really great is when someone tries an exercise or movement and you can see that they have finally mastered it and you get to see their reaction. That is a privileged moment. We all have limitless possibilities—I don’t care what age you are.”

It is great to see common areas throughout both St. John’s Meadows and Brickstone by St. John’s buzzing again with a full schedule of fitness programs—including chair exercise and yoga, dance fitness, and drum fitness classes. Even aquatic classes in the pool at St. John’s Meadows are ramping back up. Jodi is thrilled to see the positive energy that comes from these new offerings.  “It’s a blessing really,” she says. “Especially right now when there is so much negativity out there.”


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