Thursday, May 23, 2024

Leavenworth seniors stay strong and steady with Otago exercise program


LEAVENWORTH—Twice a week, the Senior Center turns into an exercise space for adults over 50 to improve their balance and strength. The workout routine is called the Otago Exercise Program, a free 16-week regiment led by Cascade Medical Center’s rehabilitation department. 

“They get to meet new friends and rekindle old friends. It’s special. Plus, it whips them into shape,” said Corky Broaddus, a Senior Center Board Member and former president.

The Otago Exercise Program, developed at the University of Otago in New Zealand, is an evidence-based program designed to reduce falls and fall-related injuries in high-risk adults. 

One participant, Loretta Camp, was experiencing excessive falls due to Parkinson’s disease, prompting her to start the program a few months ago.

“I would just turn and I’d fall down,” said Camp. “It has benefited my balance greatly. I haven’t fallen once since I started this program.”

The National Institute of Health attributes higher risks of falling to multiple factors of aging, such as depression, reduced muscle strength, balance, and gait changes. In the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), one in four adults aged 65 and older report falling each year, totaling over 14 million. 

The program begins with assessments in which individuals perform a series of strength and balance tests. For eight weeks, participants meet for an hour twice a week, doing exercises such as weighted knee extensions, squats, and hip abductions. They are encouraged to complete the exercises a third day a week on their own and build up to incorporating a 30-minute walk three times a week. Then, participants complete another assessment before continuing the workouts for an additional eight weeks, making it possible to track their progress.

“I think people respond to the idea of being able to see improvement and having it proven to them,” said Jenn Crawford of Cascade Medical Center.

Prior to the Otago Exercise Program, the Senior Center offered general exercises led by community members. However, several years ago, it received the opportunity to have Cascade Medical professionals lead balance-specific training programs. For seniors who have participated in both options, they’ve noticed a specific difference in their balance in everyday life with the Otago method.

“I was using a cane before. I’m not now,” said Marjory Blake, who has participated in both the prior exercise classes and the entirety of the Otago offerings.

The exercises themselves offer tangible results, but the program has a heavy social component. The program offers a structured routine to get out of the house and hang out with friends while they exercise. For these two reasons, the program has increased enormously in popularity, so much so that part of the group has to move outside to complete some exercises. According to Crawford, the program has completed over 100 assessments on Leavenworth seniors and consistently sees between 30 to 40 individuals each week.

The Otago Exercise Program will be open to new participants during the next assessment, which is slated for mid-May. The program takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Leavenworth Senior Center, 423 Evans Street. The Senior Center can be reached at (509) 548-6666 for questions.

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or


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