Challenge aims to improve fitness, combat social isolation in older adults

SOCIALLY CONNECTED: AARP volunteers host workshops throughout WNC such as this Twitter training. AARP and YMCA of WNC are hosting a three-month program called Disrupt Aging Community Health Challenge. Pictured are AARP volunteers, from left, Bob Tomasulo, Deborah Wagner and Judy Williams. Photo courtesy of AARP North Carolina Mountain Region

A “health-meets-social” approach to aging rolls out this month at the YMCA of Western North Carolina, in collaboration with AARP. The partnership has created a three-month program, dubbed Disrupt Aging Community Health Challenge, that combines a fitness challenge with social involvement for people 50 and older.

The YMCA of WNC was one of 10 YMCAs across the country selected by AARP to collaborate in an effort to combat social isolation and improve health and fitness levels in older adults. Diane Saccone, director of healthy aging initiatives at the YMCA of WNC, partnered with Rebecca Chaplin, associate state director of community outreach and advocacy for the AARP North Carolina Mountain Region, to offer a program that assists people in maintaining and improving well-being as they age.

“We are inviting people to participate in any activity that is physically, intellectually, socially or community focused,” says Chaplin, who cites examples of book clubs, group walks or exercise classes.

The launch of the collaboration project starts Monday, Sept. 18, on Healthy Aging Day, which also kicks off Healthy Aging Week. Healthy Aging Day, held at the Reuter Family YMCA, will include group fitness classes, cooking demonstrations, health screenings, pickleball, a lip-sync battle and several lectures — Hearing 101, Medicare Made Easy and Healing Benefits of Aromatherapy.  There will also be an opportunity to register and pick up packets for the Disrupt Aging challenge.

The end of the challenge will be celebrated with prizes and an after-party. Participants who excel will be recognized by having their photos placed on the healthy aging wall of fame at the YMCA of WNC. Chaplin and Saccone will assess qualitative and quantitative data of participants and then interview them after the challenge.

“Social isolation is a huge part of aging,” says Saccone. “Whether there is a crisis with a spouse who passes on, or transportation is an issue, or whatever the reason, older adults tend to isolate … and social isolation begets depression and chronic disease.” In designing the program, Saccone and Chaplin considered what was important for older adults to live their healthiest and richest lives, and a huge part of that, they say, is the connection to community.

Chaplin notes that social connections are created by inviting friends to sign up. In addition, she says, participants in the challenge will check in with one another in small groups.

The Disrupt Aging program is funded by a grant from the YMCA of the USA, which also helps train YMCA wellness coaches and front-desk staff to understand active older adults. Other funding will be used for “stigma training” in working with people who have dementia. “We want to make sure we are trained to work with all populations,” Saccone says. “This is a good opportunity to train staff at a deeper level, including adaptation needs, Parkinson’s programs for physical or mental limitations and clinical integration. We are also going to be training health coaches to refer patients into a wide variety of opportunities for adult exercise therapy and diabetes management.”

“We need to think about inclusion in our community for disparity and discrimination around aging,” says Chaplin. “We are looking at aging as a changing conversation, and people can live an even better life as they age.”

Chaplin points out that national AARP is creating local programs in communities, which is a huge transition for the organization. The Disrupt Aging Challenge will target Buncombe, McDowell, Henderson and Yancey counties. “We want [the program] to be accessible, regardless of income level, race, ethnicity or ZIP code,” says Chaplin, who notes that volunteers will be going to different communities to help people sign up.

“We want the community to get really excited about [the challenge],” says Saccone. “It is not just ‘one and done,’ but after the challenge is done, the energy put in creates habits, and people involved in the challenge can continue to do what they may not have been aware of  — like taking classes, workshops or whatever passion they may find.”

More info

WHAT: Disrupt Aging Community Health Challenge

WHERE: Reuter Family YMCA, 3 Town Square Blvd., Asheville

WHEN: Monday, Sept. 18, to Friday, Dec. 8

COST: Free


WHAT: Healthy Aging Day

WHERE: Reuter Family YMCA, 3 Town Square Blvd., Asheville

WHEN: Monday, Sept. 18, 9 a.m.-noon

COST: Free


Disrupt Aging Community Health Challenge

AARP of Asheville

Age Friendly Network

Healthy Aging Day

Diane Saccone

Rebecca Chaplin


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