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Old hands at healthy aging
Writer:Alex Weber

For three decades, this Western University centre has made it its business to develop, encourage and promote healthy, active living as a key to aging with dignity.

Older. Faster. Stronger. That mantra, spelled out in bold white letters on Robert Mereu’s Blue Dri-Fit T-shirt, is what keeps him working out well into his golden years. He knows regular exercise is vital for his aging body. Mereu, 86, is one of about 500 London seniors who benefit from the Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging’s (CCAA) weekly fitness classes. The mission of CCAA, Western University’s longest-standing research centre, is to develop, encourage and promote an active, healthy lifestyle for Canadian adults that will enhance the dignity of the aging process. “We’re setting the gold standard for programming for this population” says centre director Clara Fitzgerald. “Whether it’s for healthier older adults who live in the community to very frail older people who live in care facilities.” The centre was co-founded in 1989 by Dr. Peter Rechnitzer and David Cunningham to broaden research and information about older adults and exercise. When it comes to funding, the CCAA has taken a non-traditional approach to bankroll its research initiatives and programs over the last 28 years. Instead of relying on core funding, they gener ate revenue from a variety of sources — ranging from research grants, sponsorships and conferences to training courses and seniors programs — just like a business. “Not having any source of core found - ing has pros and cons. There’s always going to be challenges,” Fitzgerald says. “But it really allows us to direct our energy toward the areas that are most needed for the population that we’re serving.” The centre tries to be creative when it comes to finding new funding, and is open to community collaborations and sponsorships. Putting research into action is a key part of the CCAA’s mandate. One trend Fitzgerald has noticed is middle-aged adults focusing heavily on their kids’ activity levels, but ignore the importance of fitness for their aging parents. Regular exercise is critical for older people, she said, especially as the risk of falls, strokes, cancer and dementia increase. Today, the centre uses its research findings to develop fitness programs designed specifically for aging seniors and trains instructors all over the world through its certification courses. Ensuring seniors understand the impact regular exercise has on their overall health and well being is important. “Most of the health outcomes we think are associated with aging, aren’t actually associated with aging,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s our lifestyle choices . . . It’s so important for us to be mindful of the choices that we’re making and the impact those choices then have on our health outcomes.”