The Roman poet Virgil once said, “The greatest wealth is health.” At Plymouth Harbor we couldn’t agree more and our Wellness Center promotes that mindset in countless ways—through group fitness, whole-person wellness, social activities, and much more.

From its formal inception in 2011, Plymouth Harbor’s wellness program was designed to evolve. As we approach Plymouth Harbor’s 50th anniversary next year, we thought it would be fun to take a look back and see just how far fitness and wellness have come from those early days.

Back in the Day

While it was state-of-the-art at the time, retirement living back in 1966 (when Plymouth Harbor first opened its doors) looked quite different than it does today. Back then, physically-passive, socially-oriented activities like walking, gardening, and shuffleboard were the norm. Plymouth Harbor’s Activities Department offered a weekly exercise class and, in later years, resident Lois Droege, with her background in physical education, led a popular group fitness class for residents.

july-wellnessTimes changed, and by 2005, later generations were expressing a desire for more comprehensive fitness programming. The opportunities they were enjoying at the local YMCA or other health clubs weren’t available at Plymouth Harbor; Marketing was hearing this from prospects and their families as well.

A 2011 resident survey revealed that one of residents’ top three priorities was a wellness center with professional staff and programming. Residents wanted updated equipment, knowledgeable instructors, and a variety of fitness classes. Next step? Making it happen.

Our philosophy was “develop the program and they will come.” The brick and mortar would come later. The first step was recruiting a wellness professional, with the proper credentials and experience with a senior population, who could build a program from the ground up. Enter Chris Valuck in September 2011.  As planned, by April 2013, Chris had developed the program to the point that a second full-time staff member was needed and Amanda Kirk joined the team.

By May 2013, a capital campaign was underway and the funds needed for the cost for a new, state-of-the-art wellness center had been donated by generous residents and staff. In September 2014, Plymouth Harbor’s beautiful ‘new’ Wellness Center opened its doors. By November 2014, Chris and Amanda, along with seven other staff members,  were helping to develop Plymouth Harbor’s employee wellness program, OnBoard. 

Wellness Today

With experienced and knowledgeable staff onsite, residents receive a multitude of benefits, including personalized fitness assessments, weekly orientations, and enhanced programming—including both group fitness and other physical activities.

Resident fitness assessments are conducted for each new resident, whether in-home or in the Wellness Center. After assessments are completed, resident records are created and maintained, including documents such as consent forms, waivers, guidelines, medical clearances, medical history, and exercise logs. Today, the Wellness department is in a position where they can also offer re-assessments to current residents, upon request.

With the help of contracted instructors, the Wellness Center offers at least 10 separate fitness classes each month, some of which meet two to three times per week. Chris is onsite to teach some; however, contracting with qualified instructors allows the Wellness department to offer specialized classes in areas like Tai Chi and ballroom dancing that might not otherwise be available. Countless hours are spent researching, contacting, and vetting these individuals, to ensure residents are receiving the highest possible quality of exercise.  In addition to monthly classes, Wellness staff researches, organizes, and conducts both off-site and on-site events, including last year’s Wellness Week, field trips, kayaking, and more.

Community outreach and networking with other local fitness centers and CCRCs is conducted on a regular basis to keep programming up-to-date. To promote both Plymouth Harbor and wellness in the greater community, Chris and Amanda also serve as “The Face of Wellness” at receptions and events to assist the Plymouth Harbor marketing team. The two additionally contribute monthly to the Harbor Light, and have prepared, designed, and produced numerous take-home brochures and guidelines for increased in-home fitness for residents.

Wellness in the Future

As time passes, there continues to be a resident desire for added programming. Residents can expect the Wellness Center to adapt and improve to meet these requests—through continued research, and an emphasis on unique classes and events. One resident-requested improvement in particular that will be implemented, is the expansion of outdoor physical activities (like the popular beach walk or kayaking) into regular programming.  You can look forward to seeing these types of activities more often, as well as new, never-been-done-before activities like visits to local state parks. Residents can also expect additional group fitness classes, such as the desired tap dancing class. These unique forms of physical activity promote exercise in an interesting, social environment and we hope they will inspire and encourage more residents to participate in physical activity to enhance their well-being.

With a higher resident demand for in-home fitness, a “Wellness Center Exercise Series” is also in process, which will encompass a series of exercise booklets and DVDs of the most popular wellness classes. As of now, the Line Dancing DVD is complete, and Sit Fit and Better Balance are in the works. Stay tuned for additions to this series. Along those same lines, the long-awaited Preferred Professionals Program is now available. Designed to meet resident requests for personalized services (including personal training, Pilates, yoga, dance, and massage), residents can expect this brochure in their mailbox in just a few short weeks.

Wellness goes beyond the four walls of Plymouth Harbor. For that reason, the Wellness department is collaborating with staff to offer an internship program to qualified students studying Exercise Science. They are also planning to offer a Harbor Club program, where members are allowed special access to participate in popular Wellness activities.

We’ve come a long way since 1966, and we plan to keep evolving to meet your needs. Stay tuned for updates on new programs and activities, and please continue to share ideas and enthusiasm with staff.

By Barbara Leverone

wellnes12Only within the past few decades have scientists begun to embrace the concept of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. Prior to this, it was believed that after childhood, adult brain anatomy was fixed, only changing in the direction of decline.

Dr. Michael Merzenich, considered to be one of the world’s leading researchers in the field today, has repeatedly validated, along with many others, that the adult brain, in response to experience, is indeed plastic and capable of change.

Dr. Norman Doidge, psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and research faculty member at both Columbia University and the University of Toronto, went wellnes1on to explore this hypothesis. He documented Merzenich’s experiments along with many other leading-edge scientists in his 2007 best-selling book, The Brain That Changes Itself. In Dr. Doidge’s most recent book, The Brain’s Way of Healing, he continues to explore the brain’s highly dynamic ability to heal when stimulated by noninvasive use of light, sound, vibration, and movement. Using everyday language, he writes about successful treatment protocols for numerous conditions including Parkinson’s, stroke, multiple sclerosis, balance issues, and chronic pain.

He devotes a chapter of his book to Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984), a pioneer in the field of neuroplasticity. As early as 1949, Dr. Feldenkrais wrote that the brain could form new neural pathways to organize itself in response to demands of the environment. Dr. Feldenkrais even created a method that uses movement lessons as a stimulus to develop new options for thinking, feeling, sensing, and doing.

Learn to move with ease and efficiency, and also improve posture and flexibility through the gentle, exploratory movements of The Feldenkrais Method. Discover how mindful, novel movements can create new neural pathways, and experience firsthand the power of neuroplasticity.

To read a portion of Dr. Doidge’s chapter on Dr. Feldenkrais, click here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Elaine Litherland, Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Doidge, M.D., Norman. The Brain That Changes Itself. New York:
Penguin, 2007. Print
Doidge,M.D., Norman. The Brain’s Way of Healing. New York:
Penguin, 2015. Print.

It is simply not true that pain and increasing loss of movement and function must always come with age. Too often this belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as people restrict activity to avoid pain, and then become stiff.

In the 1930s, a form of exercise called, The Feldenkrais Method®was created by Moshe Feldenkrais, a Russian physicist and mechanical engineer.  Feldenkrais designed specific exercises to improve human functioning by increasing self-awareness through movement.

Moshe Feldenkrais often worked with older bodies, and his goal was not only to increase mobility, decrease pain, and increase independence, but also to help bodies to “get growing again.” He emphasized that the Feldenkrais Method often produced surprising results and was particularly well suited to those with older bodies. While younger people, when trying to learn something new, may use too much effort, people with lots of life experience have the wisdom to go slowly and learn well.

“Reaching, bending, turning, getting up and down from the floor, and in and out of a chair are everyday functions that the Feldenkrais Method® helps to address,” shares Barbara Leverone, who has been a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Teacher® since 1994 and holds a Masters Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of South Florida.

“Through quiet, gentle and exploratory movements, you learn to recognize habitual patterns that you have developed over the years and explore options that can lead to improved posture, function and flexibility.  These lessons, called awareness through movement, emphasize mindfulness, curiosity and repetition of enjoyable action.”


Barbara has been a movement teacher in private practice in Sarasota, Florida since 1996.  In addition to her work with babies and caregivers, she helps active seniors, performing artists, fitness and sports professionals, and those in rehabilitation from a variety of orthopedic, neurological and chronic pain conditions.


She was introduced to the Feldenkrais Method® of Movement Education in Los Angeles in the late 1970’s, looking for ways to rehabilitate from injuries sustained as a professional dancer.  She taught for Florida State University for over ten years in the graduate acting program in Sarasota, where her integration of the Feldenkrais Method and Movement for Actors gained her national recognition.


Plymouth Harbor residents will get their first of Feldenkrais with Barbara Leverone in a workshop on Tuesday, May 27 from 10:00 am to 11:15 am in The The Wellness Center (N-313)

This is a FREE CLASS!   No Sign-Ups

This class consists of floor exercises performed on a mat (mats provided, of course).

The search for wellness can mean many things to many people.  Wellness can be found in regular visits with good friends as much as it can be found in regular medical check-ups and tests.  Likewise, the concept of Wellness at Plymouth Harbor encompasses far more than strength-training facilities and health care.  Take, for example, the Tai Chi classes offered weekly.

One peaceful Tuesday afternoon recently, resident Fred Moffat parted the wild horse’s mane while Jeanne Gerry grasped the sparrow’s tail.  Maureen and Terry Aldrich waved their hands like clouds and stepped the monkey away.  These are the poetic phrases instructor Roseann Argenti, a master in Tai Chi, used to teach a short form to her class.  Progressing through a series of slow and deliberate motions named for animal actions—for example, “white crane spreads its wings” – the group was participating in a powerful low-impact exercise that originated in China as a martial art.

Tai Chi is often described as “meditation in motion” and valued as a mind-body practice that nourishes those who practice it physically, spiritually and emotionally.  Maureen Aldrich says she first tried it when travelling in China and has immensely enjoyed the class under Roseann’s guidance.  “She stretches us every time.  Not too much, just enough.”

Watching the class members flow through the sequence, you see deep breathing, focused gazes, but bodies that are relaxed with flexed knees.  What seems effortless does require and build core muscle strength.  It also improves balance, releases stress and flexes the brain “muscle” as well.

“A growing body of carefully conducted research is building a compelling case for Tai Chi as an adjunct to standard medical treatment for the prevention and rehabilitation of many conditions commonly associated with age,” says Peter M. Wayne, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of the Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Program at Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center.

Flexibility and Balance

A 2006 Stanford study showed that women practicing Tai Chi significantly boosted upper–body and lower-body flexibility as well as strength.  Coupled with the fact that Tai Chi trains the sense of proprioception, the ability to sense one’s body in space, as well as the muscles that can prevent falls, practitioners test for greater balance and reduced risk for falls.


In a 40-person study at Tufts University, an hour of Tai Chi twice a week for 12 weeks reduced pain and improved mood and physical functioning more than standard stretching exercises in people with severe knee osteoarthritis.

Bone Density

A review of six controlled studies indicates that Tai Chi may be a safe and effective way to maintain bone density in postmenopausal women.

Heart Health

A 53-person study at National Taiwan University found that a year of Tai Chi significantly boosted exercise capacity, lowered blood pressure, and improved levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, insulin, and C-reactive protein in people at high risk for heart disease.

In a 30-person pilot study at Harvard Medical School, 12 weeks of Tai Chi improved participants’ ability to walk and their quality of life.  It also reduced blood levels of B-type natriuretic protein, an indicator of heart failure.

A review of 26 studies reported that in 85% of trials, Tai Chi lowered blood pressure—with improvements ranging from 3 to 32 mm Hg in systolic pressure and from 2 to 18 mm Hg in diastolic pressure.

The Tai Chi classes represent just one thread in the entire tapestry of wellness opportunities available at Plymouth Harbor.  Sure, all of these health benefits can improve quality of life, but if you ask these Tai Chi students, they are thriving as much on the intellectual and social stimulation of exploring this ancient Chinese practice together as they are on their medical test results.

Information regarding the studies cited in this article was found in the Harvard Women’s Health Watch newsletter (May 2009).  Tai Chi classes are available to residents, free of charge, in N-313 on Tuesdays from 3:00-3:30 and on Thursdays from 9:00-9:30.  For more information, call Chris at ext. 377 or Amanda at ext. 350.  

According to a recent poll by The NPD Group, a leading global information company, 30% of adults want to cut down or eliminate gluten from their diets.  Some call this the latest fad or “health trend,” others find it absolutely necessary.

So what is gluten?  Gluten is present in many grains, primarily wheat.  It is a combination of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin  (McGee 2004).  Nutritionally, it is not essential that humans consume gluten, and the majority of people who do have no problem digesting and absorbing the proteins.  According to Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD, and senior health strategist for the American Council on Exercise, “For most people, there is nothing ‘bad’ about gluten.  It doesn’t make us gain weight.  It doesn’t clog your arteries.  It doesn’t increase your blood pressure or cholesterol.  And for most people it doesn’t cause stomach pains, cramping, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.”  Muth claims that less than 1% of  the population has Celiac’s Disease, which is an auto-immune disease where elimination of gluten is essential.  Persons suffering from this disease cannot absorb the protein gliadin, which can lead to several health complications such as fatigue, malnutrition and some cancers  (Sapone et al 2012).

However, in a normal healthy digestive system where enzymes break down the proteins into amino acids and then absorb them through the small intestine, there is no need or advantage in going gluten-free (Smolin & Grosvenor 1997). The best assurance for good health through proper nutrition is to consume a diet high in the true health foods like fruits and vegetables and, yes, whole grains which are good for us.

Watch this video to learn more about gluten free grains.


References:  McGee, H. 2004.  On Food and Cooking (Revised ed.).  New York NY: Scribner.  Smolin, L., & Grosvenor, M.B. 1997.  Nutrition Science and Applications (2nd ed.).  Fort Worth, TX: Saunders College Pub.  Sapone, A., et al. 2012.  Spectrum of Gluten-Related Disorders: Consensus of New Nomenclature and Classification.  BMC Medicine, 10:13.

Did you know that most people are two different ages?  How can this be?  A person’s chronological age is often different than their biological age; but what  is the difference?

Chronological age is determined by the number of years that a person has existed.  Biological age is determined by the physiology of a person, which includes aspects such as physical structure of his or her body, sensory awareness, performance of motor skills, cognitive abilities, general mobility and functionality.

Chronological age has little to do with fitness capability.  When considering the intensity level at which you should exercise, or deciding whether or not you should even exercise at all, take into account your biological age instead of your chronological age. Analyze how you feel while performing daily activities instead of saying, “I’m 82,  I’m too old to exercise.” Think positively and ask yourself, “Do I really feel my age?”

An example of someone being two different ages is when an individual says, “I feel 10 years younger than I am.”  According to Cody Sipe, Ph.D. and director of clinical research in the physical therapy program at Harding University, “Most adults view themselves as being 10 or more years younger than their chronological age, but they also realize that they are not as young as they once were and need to train differently than younger individuals.”

Be careful not to dismiss physical activity out of your day because of your chronological age.  But when deciding on intensity level, be careful not to ignore signs that your body is conveying to you.

Try this out!  Avoid making decisions based on chronological age alone and instead base your decision on your biological age by listening to your body and analyzing your daily capabilities.  You might surprise yourself—or even better—impress yourself!

And just for fun!

References:  Vogel, A. (2013).  Older-Adult Fitness: Gauging the Limits of Your Fit Clients.  IDEA Fitness Journal, 10(2), 28-31.

Interesting research conducted at the Cleveland Clinic showed a 35% reduction in Parkinson’s symptoms by simply pedaling a bike quickly at 80-90 rpm’s.  Some people showed up to a 60% reduction in symptoms.

Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, stroke, fibromyalgia, spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy, obesity and cerebral palsy can all take their toll on your ability to stay active. The Theracycle motorized bike was created specifically to provide exercise for those with movement disorders.

The Theracycle assists the rider in passively moving both the upper and lower body through a full range of motion.  This is an ideal piece of equipment for residents who may have orthopedic and/or neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, stroke, or frailty, because it can help the rider maintain a pace that they may not be able to do on their own.

While Theracycles are more commonly seen in physical therapy or rehab settings, thanks to generous donations from several residents, we now have a Theracycle in Plymouth Harbor’s Wellness Center!  If you are interested in the Parkinson’s research or would like to discuss incorporating the Theracycle into your exercise program, please contact Chris (x377) or Amanda (x350) in the Wellness Center. 

Participating in exercise benefits all components of health and is important for all ages.  Aerobic exercising and strength training creates a strong immune system by improving cardiovascular and lymphatic circulation.  Keeping fit also helps increase blood flow, which benefits all parts of the body.  Increased blood flow helps the liver detoxify waste more resourcefully, the heart to perform its many functions efficiently, and the brain to think better and quicker. The likelihood to develop dementia, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancers are decreased with regular exercise. 

A study about living longer by exercising was conducted by a team of researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the National Cancer Institute (Halvorson, 2013) The researchers took findings from six different studies and looked at a total of 650,000 people between the ages of 21-90 over a 10 year period (Halvorson, 2013)

Their results show that participating in 75 minutes of low activity per week, such as walking, added 1.8 years onto the life expectancy, compared with no exercise (Halvorson, 2013).  Participating in 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week added an average of 3.4-4.5 years onto the life expectancy, compared with no exercise (Halvorson, 2013). Inactivity results in 3.1 fewer years than the life expectancy.

All of these factors and research indicates that exercise and physical activity is required to live a long, healthy life!


Halvorson, R. (2013). Leisure-time physical activity adds years to your life. IDEAfit, 10(2), Retrieved from

The Spirit of Philanthropy Series by Becky Pazkowski, Vice President of Philanthropy
March 2013

All projects begin with an idea, and that idea typically grows out of a passion that an individual has for something.  For Joanne Hastings, that passion is wellness.

Late in 2011, Joanne approached Harry Hobson regarding her interest in taking the wellness center to the next level.  That “next level” included an expanded fitness area and a group exercise area that would also accommodate a dance studio.  Joanne had previously lived in communities where wellness was prominent and central to the life of the residents.  Also integral to her life were dance lessons, which she mentioned offers an alternative form of exercise with similar benefits to an individual work-out.   Not only was she interested in seeing the program grow, she was also interested in funding a portion of it.

Sharing her vision and her passion, she and Harry went to work on what the possibilities were and how they would be accomplished.  Over the next year many discussions ensued.  Eventually, the project was estimated at $1,000,000 with an additional $150,000 in equipment.  Preliminary conceptual drawings were done by THW Design in Atlanta, and they were shared with Joanne.

After seeing the project start to come alive, and sharing her own ideas about design and color from her professional interior design background, Joanne offered a gift of $300,000 towards the project.  This amount was extremely generous, and we are very grateful and pleased that Joanne’s spirit of philanthropy, combined with proper planning, would culminate in bringing a much needed program to our current and future residents at Plymouth Harbor.  In recognition of her generosity, two rooms will bear Joanne’s name:  the fitness center and the group exercise/dance studio.

Thank you so much, Joanne Hastings, for bringing your passion and philanthropic spirit to Plymouth Harbor!

The Campaign

Over the months, we were able to share this project and its funding needs with individuals who showed a similar interest.  A previous bequest from the Estate of Peggy Bates (former resident of Plymouth Harbor, was also able to be directed to the project.

Plymouth Harbor Wellness Capital CampaignWith the seed already planted by Joanne, the funding began to grow and is now over $867,000 towards the $1,000,000 for the renovation.  A full list of donors to the project is below.  Finding ourselves with more than 85% of the funding complete for the renovation, we approached our Foundation Board of Trustees who approved our first ever, formal capital campaign effort for Plymouth Harbor!  We are seeking an additional $133,000 for renovations, and $150,000 for equipment, to complete the campaign. 

This is a phenomenal project, made possible by phenomenal people.  If you would like to be part of this very exciting, and important project, please contact me at the Foundation Office (Ext. 398), and we can talk about ways in which you could be involved.  Every gift is important and appreciated!

The Donors – Representing $867,000
Estate of Dr. Peggy Bates
Jack Denison
Joe and Laura Devore
John and Alita DeJongh*
Tom Elkind (in memory of Stuart S. and Barbara R. Elkind)*
Suzanne Freund
Joanne Hastings*
Harry and Nancy Hobson
Garry Jackson
Cynthia Lichtenstein and Charles Miller
Gordon and Arlene Okawa
Becky and Paul Pazkowski
Dinah Stamp
Sandy Taylor
Tom Towler and Nancy Lyon
Tena and Tom Wilson

*Represent gifts with associated naming opportunities.