Helen Summers, 82, sets her bingo card aside, stretching up and down and side to side before gingerly stepping on a bright blue balance pad.
"Now lift one leg, just a little higher now, good," said DeWight Anderson, health science major at Kentucky Wesleyan College.
The 23-year-old leads seniors through a series of motions designed to increase cardiovascular fitness, balance and flexibility between bingo calls. The program, dubbed Bingocize, was recently approved for evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion through the U.S. Health and Human Services Administration on Aging (AoA), which will let regional groups such as the Green River Area Development District apply for federal grants to implement the program in their own areas.
"Imagine you're walking and come to a rug," Summers said. "If you don't have the strength to lift your feet, you're going to get tangled in that rug and you'll go down. We all need the exercise and the bingo, well, most of us love that too."
Jason Crandall, assistant professor of kinesiology and health promotion, developed the program in collaboration with KWC students for residents at Roosevelt House II three years ago. Since then, they've completed a study and added more exercises. His students now lead biweekly classes at Roosevelt House I and Adams Village.
"We had trouble getting people to come to a regular fitness program at the Roosevelt House so we threw in a round of bingo," he said. "Before we had two or three people. Now we're consistently getting 15 to 20. They're still working out and having great results so far."
Daphne Cole, service coordinator at Roosevelt House II, monitors Bingocize every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Her residents use their walkers a little less, she said, and smile a little more.
Pat Rutter, who declined to give her age, said she doesn't care about bingo.
"I come for the exercise," she said. "I did yoga for 50 years and I can't do it anymore so this gets me moving. Maybe with this, I can get back to it."
Cole teases them, said Summers, adding the only reason she and others drop by is to stare at the young men.
"Hey, that's an added incentive," Summers said. "As we get older, falling is such a terrible thing for us and it's so easy to do. No one likes to be told you have to exercise, especially if you're already recovering from a fall. It's not like that here. You do it because you want to and that will help you a lot more than if you're told you have to."
The benefits extend beyond that of traditional exercise, Cole said.
"It's helped a couple of people with depression -- just out of this world. They like the interaction with the younger adults," Cole said. "Families, they get so busy they kind of put mom on the back burner sometimes and these guys, they love on them and make them feel all warm and fuzzy. It's really hard to find something to pull them together that makes them this happy and is good for them."
Crandell, who plans to teach at Western Kentucky University in the fall, said he wants to continue to promote Bingosize in the Owensboro area while making it available to other areas as well.
"Our participants stay in their apartments so much of the week, it's nice to get them laughing," Anderson said. "The program was designed to improve the overall quality of life. That's what we're here to do. I think a lot of older people see the term ‘exercise' and think, well, I can't do that. I want them to know this program really is universal. Whether they're in chairs or wheelchairs, we have exercises for everyone and we'll never push them over their comfort level."
Once seniors lose their mobility, they lose their independence, Crandell said. They sit more often, gain weight and need more frequent help with activities for daily living.
"Getting up and down out of a chair, walking a few feet back and forth, lifting, stretching, endurance -- all these things add up," he said.
Seniors often assume they don't need to exercise, Anderson said. Sometimes they give up.
"But they shouldn't," he said. "They don't have to. Now is the time to keep going strong."
Megan Harris, 691-7302, firstname.lastname@example.org
Text & image courtesy