Blue Water Area YMCA Promoting Physical Fitness, Decreasing Social Isolation Among Older Adults in Michigan’s Thumb

Jake Newby

| 3 min read

Older adults up and down Michigan’s Thumb are feeling young again.
That’s because the YMCA of the Blue Water Area placed a major emphasis on the health and wellness of senior citizens in its surrounding communities in 2022. Last year the Blue Water Y, located in Port Huron just west of the St. Clair River, received a $14,000 Community Health Matching Grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) Foundation. 
The grant gave the Blue Water Y the resources needed to bolster its own in-house class schedule and bring its patented Enhance Fitness program straight into the retirement communities and assisted living facilities in St. Clair and Sanilac counties.
This sort of fitness delivery method is a convenient, unintimidating way to help older adults stay active.
“We thought, ‘we have to start going out and meeting them where they’re at,’” Sheila Volker, a chronic disease prevention coordinator at the Blue Water Y said. “Helping those people that can’t get to us. (These facilities) call us all the time. Some of them don’t want to come in a big group. We have 60 people in some classes here at the Y, but not everyone feels comfortable in a big group like that.” 
Enhance Fitness is an evidence-based group exercise program for older adults. It uses simple, easy-to-learn movements that motivate individuals – particularly those with arthritis – to stay physically active. The program promotes physical benefits like:
  • Better balance
  • Better sleep
  • Increased upper and lower body strength
  • More energy
  • More feelings of happiness
  • More flexibility and range of motion
  • Sense of independence
Among older adults who participate in Enhance Fitness, health costs were lowered each year by close to $1,000, per the YMCA website.
Volker said “feelings of happiness” were on full display during a recent class in February, which is National Senior Independence Month. Participants felt so loose and nimble that an impromptu dance session broke out.
“At the end of a class, a woman comes up to me and says I just have to play this Frank Sinatra song, she said, ‘You have to play this song,’” Volker said. “I pulled it up on YouTube, I start playing it, and she said, ‘This is what I used to dance to all the time when I was younger than you.’ She’s a 93-year-old young gal. And she just starts doing the fox trot. Class is over, she just starts whipping it out. She looked like she was 20 years old. A couple older gentlemen from the class come right over and they just start dancing with her. Cutest thing ever.”
Volker added that class members are grateful for the BCBSM Foundation grant, which has also allowed the Blue Water Y to add new classes– including a water arthritis program – purchase new equipment, and specifically train personnel to instruct senior fitness classes.
“The Foundation takes pride in supporting health promoting initiatives among older adults,” said Myra Tetteh, Senior Program Officer, BCBSM Foundation. “The more physically fit and active a person is, the longer they can retain their independence and that’s exactly what programs like Enhance Fitness at the Blue Water Area YMCA promote. Beyond that, these classes bring people together, which has a high impact after the lengthy period of social isolation we all experienced. The mental, physical, and emotional support, this is a program that includes it all. Increased physical and mental fitness can translate in fewer health issues that require medical attention, which can result in savings for seniors.”
The Community Health Matching Grant Program supports nonprofit community organizations that develop, implement, and evaluate new approaches to health care issues by focusing on health care access, quality, and cost. For more information on BCBSM Foundation grantmaking search “Foundation” on
Photo credit: YMCA of the Blue Water Area
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