New programs inspire, body and soul If you visit a Senior Lifestyle Corporation (SLC) independent-living facility, don't be surprised to see residents assuming the lotus position. That's because the Chicago-based company recently unveiled its "Fit for Life" program. Rather than concentrate solely on such activities as strength training or cardiovascular exercises, the program also seeks to nourish seniors' mental, emotional and spiritual sides by offering activities like Tai Chi and Yoga, which are typically practiced for their mental benefits as much as their physical ones.

Tai Chi is a martial art in which practitioners gently string together a series of postures into one continuous movement. Because it is practiced slowly and is easy on joints, Tai Chi is ideal for many senior citizens. Yoga emphasizes static postures that are designed, among other things, to increase flexibility. Studies of the two exercises have demonstrated that both Tai Chi and Yoga can reduce heart rate and blood pressure, relieve stress, heighten relaxation, increase concentration and improve balance. "Fit for Life" also provides courses on spirituality and stress management and preaches the health benefits of socializing. But this doesn't mean that old-fashioned exercise is ignored. SLC communities feature weight training equipment designed to carefully strengthen muscles and cardiovascular equipment that creates a gentle workout. "If your body feels good and your mind feels good, then your soul will follow," says SLC Chairman and CEO William B. Kaplan.

A similar program is being tested at Carlsbad, Calif.-based Kisco Retirement Communities' 178-unit Fresno, Calif., senior-living facility. If the trial run, which lasts until next summer, is a success - and Kisco President and CEO Andy Kohlberg believes it will be - then the program will be implemented at other company facilities.

"I think more and more seniors-housing companies are developing more extensive wellness programs," says David Schless, executive director of the American Seniors Housing Association in Washington, D.C.

It's exciting to see the industry recognize what research has been telling us: that health means taking care of ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally. The development of such programs is to be applauded. They show that senior-living management firms are working to keep residents happy, healthy and productive.