Exercise Study of Seniors
Creating a Bridge
How “Connect Across Generations” impacted the lives of Texas State students
The Price Center — a San Marcos senior center — and two Texas State researchers have partnered up to conduct a study that allows Bobcats to break out of their campus-life bubble. Assistant Professor Eun Hae Grace Kim from the School of Social Work and Associate Professor Kyong Hee Chee from the Department of Sociology wanted to see what would happen when students and older members of the community interacted, allowing them to “Connect Across Generations.”
“As a student sometimes it is easy to get carried away by only participating in on-campus events, however, at the same time there is a whole community of people that live in San Marcos just as residents,” Anahi Villarruel, a senior social work major who was involved in the study, said.
The main goal of “Connect Across Generations” was to see if elderly adults would participate more in exercise classes, like tai chi and yoga, if they were buddied up with a younger person. The participants spent most of the study learning new yoga positions and tai chi movements, so students first recognized the benefits of trying these different forms of exercise with classmates of varying capabilities.
“My favorite thing about the study was the fact that the yoga instructor focuses on the abilities of the older people. She never made it seem like doing a variation of the move was less important,” Amy Piatt, the graduate assistant for the yoga class, said. “Everyone was put on the same level, and there is no judgment in that room.”
“The tai chi classes have been lifesavers for me. For that hour, I am relaxed, and I am able to let go of all my stress. I’m really happy I did it,” Linda McWhorter, the graduate assistant for the tai chi class, said.
Though the focus of the classes was getting the older adults active, the students walked away learning life skills that can only be taught through experiences like “Connect Across Generations.”
“It has really helped me learn how to start conversations in uncomfortable situations. I can use that in counseling and everyday life,” Piatt said. “I was never jumping at the chance to talk to new people, but now I know that I can find a way to make a friend in new situations.”
“I didn’t realize the importance of being a motivator and that friendly face for the students. With any kind of exercise program or any new habit you are trying to start, it’s easy to give up after a couple of times,” McWhorter said. “Letting them know their participation is valued played an important role in making them come back every week.”
At the end of the eight weeks, the students felt they gained a new friend and mentor in their older buddies.
“The favorite conversation that I had with my buddy was when we went out for coffee together after our tai chi class, and we both shared stories of our childhood and previous work experience,” Villarruel explained.
“It started as getting to know them better, but now it’s become them helping me and asking me how I’m doing. It’s become a cool friendship to have,” Piatt said.
The Texas State students involved learned new life skills, more about their respective form of exercise, and most importantly how to overcome the stigma that revolves around interacting with people of a different age group.
“Just because a person looks older or is older than us does not mean that we cannot hang out with them,” Villarruel stated.
“Younger people feel like older people are closed off, but I found through the program that older people want to share what they know and they are really receptive to younger people,” Piatt said. “You just have to give them a chance.”
“Both older people and younger people have this uncertainty in interacting with someone of a different age,” McWhorter explained, drawing from her experience as an older student on campus. “Once they put away that uncertainty, older and younger people had the chance to connect and realize that they aren’t so different. At the end of the class, I saw that the divide had been bridged. Students and older adults voiced that they wished the program would be longer.” ⭑