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WU Moves

Free wellness program helps seniors with exercising, healthy lifestyles

A WU Moves participant with a Washburn instructor

For most gym memberships, joining is the easy part. Finding the motivation to come back day after day is where it gets more difficult.

The opposite is true for WU Moves, a free comprehensive wellness program at Washburn University for low-income individuals. There’s a wait list just to get in, but once someone does, there’s little to no drop-off in attendance or participation.

The program was a combined effort between the kinesiology department and School of Nursing, created in 2016 by Park Lockwood, lead researcher and associate professor, kinesiology; Roy Wohl, chair and professor, kinesiology, and Kathy Ure, C.O.A.C.H. director and lecturer, School of Nursing, for people who need a place to improve their wellness and fitness but can’t afford to pay a gym membership fee or costs for routine health assessments.

The three faculty members operate the program out of Petro Allied Health Center and are dedicated to helping a group of about 100 community members improve their health and wellness, with the assistance of student workers and interns.

“They see results, and objectively, we see results too,” said Lockwood. “We’re measuring their fitness by their performance, and all aspects of their fitness improve.”

But physical changes and improved measures like heart rate, blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels aren’t the only benefits participants take away from the workouts.

“Subjectively, as well, you see them smiling more. They’re more outgoing and happier,” said Wohl. “They’re just more joyful about being here and what’s happening to them.”

Lockwood helped launch a similar program in 2010 at Health Care Access in Lawrence, and after seeing its popularity, wanted to offer the services to Topekans. He found space available at Washburn and received an internal grant to get started. Within four weeks, the program was full, almost entirely due to word-of-mouth recommendations. Calls still come in from hopeful members.

“I have to turn them away for two reasons," Lockwood said. "One is, it’s for low-income individuals, more or less, with a household income of $45,000 or less. The other reason is, it’s just full. So I have to say ‘I’ve got to put you on a wait list.’”

Those who do make their way in come multiple times a week. One of the larger groups involved is the East Topeka Senior Center, which buses as many as 15 people to work out and receive health evaluations together.

“You think of large groups and the obstacles a senior population might face getting here, maybe with transportation, or not feeling like it that day, or something else happens,” Wohl said. “Despite all that, the attendance rate is very high. They’re making sure they get here.”

In addition to tracking fitness and health improvements, WU Moves offers classes nearly every day that make exercising fun, ranging from stretching and relaxation to yoga to weight management.

Maustin Otterstatter, a senior intern with WU Moves, teaches a step aerobics class and said he gets both experience and joy when attendees start seeing results.

“You can see they enjoy coming, and they enjoy the people they’re exercising with,” Otterstatter said. “A lot of people use this as a social time too.”

One of the regulars, a Topekan named Cynthia Harris, often arrives well before the scheduled class times to get some walking in and chat with instructors. She’s been coming to classes for 20 weeks, and said she likely wouldn’t be as committed to expensive programs elsewhere that may be less welcoming to newcomers.

“It’s my third time taking step aerobics tonight,” Harris said while warming up for Otterstatter’s class. “Who’d have ever thought that I’d be stepping anywhere? I recovered from double-knee replacement surgery and walked with a cane for three years before I started coming in here to exercise.”

Harris said she’s healthier, happier and has lost 25 pounds thanks to encouragement from program staff.

“You don’t really realize until the end that you’re sweating,” Otterstatter said. “I definitely enjoy it, and I think the people in the class do too. I hope they continue to enjoy it over the next couple years if we can keep it going.”

While everyone involved hopes that is the case, WU Moves is already stretched thin in terms of space and staffing. Additional intern spots will be added for the spring semester, but Wohl and Lockwood said maintaining the program beyond summer 2018 will take a renewed source of funding.

The program has provided experience for faculty and student volunteers from a long list of departments, including kinesiology, nursing, allied health, social work, psychology and law. But the biggest motivator to keep WU Moves going is to offer a service to a population that may have no other options.

“They say all the time how much they love the program,” Lockwood said. “I recently did a survey, and it rated at 95 percent in terms of how good they thought the program is. It kind of blew me away because, I don’t care what you’re surveying, most people aren’t that satisfied about anything.”

Winter 2024 The Ichabod magazine cover with picture of the bell tower and snow fallen on campus

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. View the current and past editions


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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483