Taking the pandemic in stride: La Jolla seniors take to walking and outdoor exercise to stay active

Chateau La Jolla residents participate in an outdoor exercise class.

For most of us, finding the motivation to exercise is tough. Especially during a pandemic. And many face the health limitations of getting older.

But the White Sands La Jolla and Chateau La Jolla retirement communities have gotten creative to come up with ways to get and keep their seniors moving.

White Sands has set up a “walking challenge” twice since the coronavirus pandemic started, and Chateau La Jolla combined available options for its residents to exercise.

Chateau La Jolla

Combining the two options available to gyms in San Diego County — moving classes outside and reopening indoor facilities at reduced capacity — allowed Chateau La Jolla residents to resume some physical activities.

“We are doing fitness classes outside with great participation, and this last week we opened our gym with one participant at a time, or two if living in the same household or with a caregiver,” said Chateau Executive Director Wendy Matalon. “We have also opened the pool to two swimmers at a time.”

Balance and mobility and cardio strength classes are each offered two days a week on the patio.

For resident Debby Davis, the reopening has meant “everything,” she said.

“When the pandemic hit, it put a damper on everyone’s physical activity and outlook. There were physical activities here four days a week, and for a few months that was all gone and it was very frustrating,” she said. “But we have wonderful weather, so I kept walking on Coast Boulevard. But when one is cooped up in your house, it can be depressing. For me personally, exercise helps relieve that. I’m very grateful we are able to do that again.”

She said she is most looking forward to using the gym equipment again. “I want to feel good, and when I exercise, I feel good. It puts a positive outlook on things.”

White Sands

In May, two months after Californians were instructed to stay home to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and again this month, management at White Sands La Jolla implemented a walking challenge to help residents stay active and lift their mood while keeping them on the grounds.

“We have very active independent residents, and they are used to leading very active lives,” said senior activities director Pat Guerrero. “I didn’t put a lot of parameters on it, just to stay in the community. We are eight acres, so it’s not hard to stay within the grounds, but they all devised their own routes. They couldn’t walk in groups, had to wear a mask, be socially distant. We started to see the same people walking the same routes. We saw how their disposition changed.”

Every week in May, Guerrero would post the number of steps each resident logged for the week and soon found they would compete among themselves to try to better their numbers.

“We have a 93-year-old who was determined to walk 4,000 steps every day, and she did!” Guerrero said. “It gave them something to look forward to and something to focus on other than the pandemic.”

As a prize, Guerrero bought three pairs of baby tennis shoes and spray-painted them gold, silver and bronze to give to the top walkers.

The gold went to resident Anita Holmes, who clocked more than 521,000 steps for the month.

“I’ve always walked, and even before we moved to White Sands and I lived in Hillcrest, I did my errands on foot, so it came naturally to me,” she said. “I stick to a schedule, which helps. Once you start doing it, you don’t want to slide back. I’m pretty motivated.”

White Sands resident Anita Holmes shows the gold sneakers she received after winning the community's walking challenge.
White Sands La Jolla resident Anita Holmes shows the gold-painted sneakers she received after winning the community’s walking challenge.

Each resident has a different route through the campus, and Holmes’ routine laps around the community’s driveway and past the staff offices and takes 75 minutes to complete.

“Since we can’t see the staff here because they are not supposed to be in contact with people, by going out and walking when the shifts change, I get to say hello to people and wave,” Holmes said. “I added that to my exercise. I wanted to keep up morale for the residents and team members.”

The morale boost is part of the reason the walking challenge returned this month (there was a brief pause when air quality was compromised due to the Valley fire in East County).

“It gets them moving,” Guerrero said. “They are advised not to go off the property, so I wanted to keep them healthy and engaged and doing something different. We went from going on 10 to 12 trips a month to venues in the community to none. It all came to a screaming halt. And they didn’t have any other choices. The pool is open now in a limited capacity. We had some Zoom things they could do in their room, but a lot need more.

“This got them out and exercising. We saw their physicality improve. As many programs as I can offer via Zoom, I can’t force them to participate, and they all wanted to participate in the walking challenge.” ◆