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Fit For You: YMCA Wellness Center

All baby boomers will be over 65 by 2030, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. So, one in every five residents will be of retirement age. That means more people will be living with chronic conditions and general age-related issues, even as their life expectancy increases. Here in Wisconsin, Waukesha County is home to the state’s largest senior population.

Active and aging adults and their families have always been at the heart of the YMCA. However, not many gyms or health facilities are tailored for only aging adults with healthy living programs, specialized equipment, and other services.

But the YMCA of Greater Waukesha is making strides to change that. The New Berlin YMCA Wellness Center just opened this week. It’s a custom designed facility for active and aging adults designed to make them feel welcome and at ease — whether they're looking to maintain their fitness or reclaim their health.

"We know that there's a need for this ... and we are one of the first in the nation to have a facility dedicated towards this population," notes Anna Schmidt, workplace wellness director of the YMCA of Greater Waukesha County.

Credit Audrey Nowakowski
The YMCA New Berlin Wellness Center has a section of SCIFIT medical grade exercise equipment especially designed for ease of use and accessibility for the aging population or those in need of physical therapy.

The YMCA has always been a family friendly facility, with classes and equipment for all ages. But the New Berlin Wellness Center seeks to be a more welcoming environment with smaller exercise floors filled with specialty equipment, including medical grade cardio equipment like the SciFit treadmill.

"You can actually make the belt go in reverse so you can do backwards walking. That's something we see a lot when we're working with Parkinson's patients," explains Schimdt.

Other specialized machines, such as modified ellipticals, simulate the motions of walking and can be especially user-friendly with complete swiveling chairs. Free motion weight equipment will help strengthen muscular imbalances with arms and pulleys that move independently, rather than the traditional fixed positioning most equipment at gyms have readily available.

Hanna Misiak, healthy living director of the YMCA of Greater Waukesha County, says the new facility not only serves as a place to recreate but as another option for care and support in conjunction with a person's medical care.

Credit Audrey Nowakowski
Workplace Wellness Director Anna Schmidt demonstrates the accessibility of the Wellness Center's new equipment. Swiveling chairs help members position themselves on the machine even if they have mobility restrictions.

"We are hoping that we can serve as kind of that continuum of care where after people no longer have their sessions within their health care facility they can come to the Y, especially here, where it’s a little bit smaller scale and we have the specialized equipment," she notes.

The Wellness Center also has programs ranging from weight loss, moving for better balance, diabetes prevention, chronic disease prevention, Wellbeats and cooking demonstrations.

"Our hope for [our kitchen facility] is that we're really helping people learn how it can be easy and it can be low cost to make these healthy meals at home," says Misiak.

The Wellness Center will aslo have social events to invite gym and community members to help "create a sense of belonging, and maybe help with some of the social isolation that they experience," she adds.

"I think we're really serving a unique need here and I'm really excited to see how that unfolds," says Schmidt.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.