SMART classes are changing lives


VON’s SMART (Seniors Maintaining Active Roles Together) classes in Ontario North East are changing the lives of seniors and people with disabilities. 

When Judy Hanes was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, her doctor advised her to keep exercising and stretching to maintain and improve mobility. "Joining VON's SMART exercise classes has been life-changing,” she says. “I'm feeling so much better since participating in the chair fitness classes, and I am seeing an improvement in my balance.” 

SMART Program Coordinator Darren Fabiilli says classes focus on strength, balance and flexibility. A new, 45-minute seated yoga class has become popular with participants. Tai chi and urban poling are also offered. All classes are free and any needed equipment is provided.

“The main function of classes is to keep participants moving,” explains Darren. “Since COVID, it’s to get them interacting with other people. That's the big thing.”

Judy attends classes at The Village at Canadore College, a groundbreaking health, wellness and educational facility in North Bay. “Another wonderful bonus is making new friends,” she says. “Many of us meet up before or after classes, too."

With funding from the Government of Canada, The Village Collective Impact Project works collaboratively with seniors and other stakeholders to develop new models of healthy aging and inclusion efforts to improve the health outcomes of seniors and Indigenous seniors in Nipissing-Parry Sound.

“The whole goal of the project is to reduce social isolation for seniors in the community and hopefully be an example for other communities in being more senior-inclusive,” says Alison Johnston, Village Assistant. “We do that in a lot of ways. One of them is offering exercise classes.” Space is provided to VON free of charge. 

Alison says VON SMART classes are a hit, and feedback is positive. “We've got a lot of people with many, many stories and history and lives that they’ve lived and they don't have a chance to talk about it until they come and connect socially here. It's like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders because they now have a community again.”

Students from Canadore College’s occupational and recreational therapy programs assist with classes as part of the college's efforts to increase students’ understanding of seniors and issues that impact them.

Before the pandemic hit, SMART North East served 1,000 seniors from 108 locations. Now, the program serves about 500 seniors from 45 locations. Online classes were added, and over 30 people per week still take advantage of them, but Darren is hoping to increase in-person availability. A shortage of instructors and cost-free locations has restricted expansion efforts.

In the meantime, Darren says SMART is making great strides in showing participants the importance of continued exercise. “Even coming twice a week for 30 to 45 minutes to get you moving will keep up that strength, help with your balance, keep you mobile.”