Your Health

Steppin’ Up with Confidence program offers older adults a chance to age well

Photo of seniors exercising as a group.
Photo of Diana Doyle-Zebrun. JIM EVANCHUK
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, February 23, 2018

Have you ever heard the expression: “You have to train to be old?”

It’s an idea that makes a lot of sense, when you think about it. After all, aging well is not as easy as it looks.

For example, one of the first things that happens as we age is we tend to lose muscle mass (about 10 per cent a year after the age of 25). This can contribute to a loss of flexibility and balance, which can lead to increased risk of serious injury from falls. 

As we get older, we also become more vulnerable to a whole host of chronic conditions, including arthritis, weight gain, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and hypertension, just to name a few. All of these conditions can limit our enjoyment of life, or even shorten it.

Fortunately, there is a way to reduce the risk for developing these health issues.

Research shows that older adults who are physically active are more likely to live healthier, happier lives. In fact, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines suggest that adults 65 years of age or more can reduce the risk of chronic diseases and maintain functional independence and mobility by getting about 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week in sessions of at least 10 minutes each.

The problem is that many older adults are intimidated by gyms and workout classes and aren’t sure what kinds of exercises they should be doing or where they should go for information.

This is where the Steppin’ Up with Confidence peer volunteer program comes into play.

Managed by the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults in Manitoba, the program facilitates exercise classes for older adults in Winnipeg and other communities throughout the province. In doing, so it helps encourage older Manitobans to become more active and less vulnerable to the various chronic conditions often associated with aging. 

As you might expect, the classes are tailor-made for older adults. In addition to providing age-appropriate exercises, they offer peer support, motivation and the opportunity to socialize. They are also accessible. Most classes take place in seniors’ housing complexes, church basements, shopping malls, community clubs and 55+ active living centres. 

Each exercise class is led by an older adult. Think of them as active aging ambassadors. They go through a two-day workshop that covers all the exercises and resources needed to lead an exercise program in their local community. The workshop is led by qualified facilitators, who are certified through the Manitoba Fitness Council. After the workshop, each peer leader has an assigned mentor who provides support, advice and answers questions.

Each Steppin’ Up with Confidence class follows the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. As such, classes incorporate activities aimed at maintaining physical strength, flexibility and balance. A typical class includes a warm-up, cardio exercises, strength and balance training, flexibility and then a cool-down. Each exercise is described in a manual, which includes how to keep the exercises age-appropriate and how to safely adapt them if a participant wants to step things up. For example, some participants might perform a number of the exercises while sitting in a chair if lack of stability or leg strength is a problem.

People who join the program say they love it. In addition to providing participants with the motivation to exercise on a regular basis, the classes also offer them the opportunity to make new friends. The fact that classes are located nearby in their community and there is no charge to participate is also a plus. And who knows? If you come out to a Steppin’ Up with Confidence class, you might find yourself gaining the ability to go on to enjoy other physical fitness activities, like walking, swimming and yoga.

There are currently 182 peer leaders running classes throughout the province, including 150 in Winnipeg with the rest in rural Manitoba communities such as Brandon, Dauphin, Steinbach and Gimli. The largest exercise group consists of about 40 people at the Barbara Mitchell Family Resource Centre in Winnipeg, and the smallest group is three people in the Town of Cypress River. But regardless of size, all the groups are friendly and welcoming.

If you are interested in joining the Steppin’ Up with Confidence program or would like to become a peer volunteer leader, please visit the ALCOA-MB website at or phone 204-632-3947 or (toll-free) 1-866-202-6663.

Jim Evanchuk is the Executive Director of the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults in Manitoba. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, February 23, 2018.

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