In an Active Aging Week best practice, this Canadian agency intertwined the 2016 and 2017 aging festivals with celebrations for a national milestone to motivate participation—and 43 million steps—over a 12-month period
Every year local hosts develop customized schedules of Active Aging Week® activities that show remarkable creativity and produce positive life experiences. One hope expressed for the annual celebration of aging and living well is that older adults will try something that engages them meaningfully and encourages them ultimately to adopt a wellness practice or lifestyle. For hosts, the challenge can lie in translating interest in demonstrations and free activities into ongoing participation. One agency in Calgary, Canada, found an answer to this challenge in a wellness initiative bookended by consecutive Active Aging Weeks.
Dedicated to enhancing the lives of people ages 55+, Kerby Centre seeks to help older adults in the province of Alberta “live as well as possible, for as long as possible, as residents in the community.” The not-for-profit organization, founded in 1973, served more than 25,000 “unique individuals” in 2017. Among other things, the agency provides information, services and programming for older adults, with active living, fitness and lifelong-education among its offerings. For some years, its programming has included Active Aging Week events and activities.
In 2016, Kerby Centre staff leveraged the annual active-aging celebration to launch a yearlong wellness initiative in which participants tracked their steps for a virtual cross-country walk. The Maple Leaf Quest invited adults ages 55+ to walk across Canada “from coast to coast to coast” to celebrate the nation’s 150th birthday (July 1, 2017). That’s no small feat in a country whose total area (9.98 million sq. km./3.85 million sq. mi.) ranks second largest in the world.
Kerby Centre kicked off the Quest on September 27, 2016, with a walk event in Confederation Park, a Calgary green space “created to celebrate Canada’s Centennial in 1967.” The initiative ended during Active Aging Week 2017, with a celebratory walk and picnic on September 26 in Banff, the country’s oldest national park.
“The goal was to walk across every province and territory throughout the year (one per month) and eventually make our way across Canada,” says Kerby Centre’s Chad Geiger, senior manager, facilities. “We thought it was an excellent opportunity to intertwine Active Aging Weeks and Canada’s birthday celebrations.”
Taking the Quest lead at Kerby Centre were Manager of Education and Recreation Kari Stone and Director of Operations Lynn Podgurny. Every month center staff mapped the course for participants to “virtually traverse” a new province or territory, with maps posted in the Education and Recreation Department and posters displayed to show how far people had walked.
Quest participants received free pedometers. Individuals were each responsible for tracking and reporting their progress, which they could do by entering steps online in a simple process. If they were uncertain about the technology, they could record their steps on paper for staff to enter at the center. Walking and fitness tips were also provided.”
To keep people engaged and motivated, Kerby Centre offered a guided community group walk each month, Geiger continues. Individuals could complete one walk or as many as they desired. Participation needed to be flexible, he explains, because a lot of older Calgarians spend the winter months in warmer climates.
The “monthly meetups,” though independently organized, fit into the Kerby Centre’s “Canada 150” programming for the year, and showcased interesting locations in and around the Calgary area. Some walks involved bus trips to a destination (e.g., the Olympic Oval Walk on Valentine’s Day 2017), others left from the building. There was also an overnight expedition on the Trans Canada Trail. “Highlights of these walks,” Geiger says, “included parks, nature reserves, malls, the overhead walkway connections through downtown, and even around the concourse of the Saddledome during a Calgary Flames’ practice.” [Ed. The 19,000-seat Scotiabank Saddledome is an indoor arena that is home ice to the city’s National Hockey League team.]
Expenses for the Quest included pedometers, food and snacks, newspaper advertising and buses. Also, “Canada 150” pins were purchased to distribute at the 2016 launch. As with Active Aging Week events, participation in the yearlong initiative was free to everyone, except for small fees payable for bus trips. Kerby Centre contributed CAD$2,000 toward costs, according to Geiger. Corporate sponsorship covered the remainder.”
Kerby Centre staff consider the Maple Leaf Quest to have succeeded admirably at engaging participants to be active and motivating them to stay involved. Introduced during Active Aging Week, the Quest celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday through exercise, observes Keith Callbeck, senior manager of marketing and communications. Community walks took place each month for a year, and more than “300 older adults received a pedometer to track their steps,” Callbeck says. “We clocked over 43 million steps as part of our Quest. That’s all the way across Canada and back. To mark the finale of this amazing journey,” he adds, “Kerby Centre brought 45 older adults to Banff National Park to walk, take photos, enjoy each other’s company, and celebrate our great country.”
In Chad Geiger’s view, the Quest “attracted a wide variety of people each month because it was based on people’s interests. It had a far reach because there was something for everybody,” he says.
Kerby Centre’s learnings have included the importance of providing opportunities outside the building, Geiger shares, while the unexpected popularity of the Quest’s overnight trip has encouraged staff to plan other such opportunities. Hosted by Kerby instructor Bonnie Field, a seven-day yoga-centered cruise from Vancouver to Alaska is scheduled for the last week of September. It promises to be a fun, active Kerby Centre adventure for this year’s Active Aging Week.
The Journal on Active Aging® thanks Chad Geiger and Keith Callbeck for their help with this article. For more about Kerby Centre, visit https://www.kerbycentre.com.