Older residents of Muswellbrook Shire have been benefiting from more options to help them stay active as they age thanks to the reopening of a new wellness centre and tailor-made virtual fitness classes.
After more than a year of setbacks ranging from COVID lockdowns to resourcing challenges, the Muswellbrook Wellness Centre on Wilkinson Ave reopened its doors in July, much to the excitement of the town's elder residents.
""It was good to see so many people come back, with a few new people, which was lovely," 70-year-old Muswellbrook resident Julie Tereszkun said.
A retired nurse, Ms Tereszkun said she had been attending the centre, operated by not-for-profit aged and disability care provider integratedliving, for about four years.
""My friend Lyn across the road introduced me. I started using the equipment and gradually built up the strength in my legs. My arms are a lot stronger too now.
Ms Tereszkun said the Muswellbrook centre, located in the Boronia building, was able to provide exercises specially catered to the different abilities of each participant.
"It is run by personal trainers who are constantly on hand to assist, guide and encourage us."
When the centre was forced to close due to COVID restrictions, integratedliving was able to offer virtual training sessions throughout lockdown, which Ms Tereszkun said helped her maintain her exercise routine with three online classes per week as well as facilitating valuable social interaction.
"I'm not a great one for doing exercises without a bit of encouragement, so it's been wonderful," she said.
Senior Manager of Wellness and Exercise at integratedliving, Georgia Kelaher, said she had found many more people were now willing to engage with online technology over the past year.
"We had a good number of clients join the virtual program who hadn't taken it up last year," Ms Kelaher said.
""We were really impressed with how willing they are now to jump on board in Muswellbrook and across the Hunter."
Ms Kelaher said not many clients were not particularly tech-savvy, however due to extended and with the help of integratedliving's staff, an increasing number had been willing to give online classes a go.
"Now they're experiencing the benefits of exercising online where you can still get personal instruction from our professional trainers without having to leave home," Ms Kelaher said.
The CEO of integratedliving, Catherine Daley, said the success of the online classes and the reopening of the Muswellbrook Wellness Centre was a testament to both clients and staff at the non-profit organisation, which had its beginnings in Muswellbrook and Murrurundi in the Hunter region in 1999.
""We know the challenges faced by people in regional, rural and remote areas when accessing health and wellbeing services," said Ms Daley.
"That's why we choose to support people in these areas, and in communities such as Muswellbrook and the broader Hunter region.
"It is always heartening to see clients embracing these opportunities that can be so beneficial to them and their families, and those willing to overcome any fears they may have around using technology or even exercise itself."
Coordinator of the Muswellbrook centre, Angie Frazer, agreed and said she was already seeing the benefits for the Upper Hunter community through both the centre and the online classes.
"(Our) equipment is specialised for elderly people. It's safe and supportive, and it is set up to cover all of the really important key movements that our clients need to maintain independence for longer, such as pushing, pulling, pressing, working the leg muscles as well as the hips," Ms Frazer said.
The focus on exercises that help the community's ageing population stay healthy, active and independent was also carried through to the online classes and Ms Frazer said she had been impressed by the program so far.
"Clients have been loving them, and saying how much they help them keep moving," she said.
Despite describing herself as 'pretty hopeless' with technology and needing her husband's help to set up the classes, Ms Tereszkun said the online classes had also had the unexpected benefit of reuniting her with an old friend.
"I recognised someone (through the online classes) I hadn't seen in years, then there was another lady who recognised me from where I used to work at the doctor's surgery.
"The social interaction is wonderful with lots of chatter and laughter," she said.
As NSW prepares to gradually emerge from COVID restrictions from Monday, October 11, Ms Frazer said both staff and clients were looking forward to welcoming people back to the Muswellbrook centre after a positive return during Muswellbrook brief reprieve from lockdown in September.
""I think our clients appreciate being able to move and work out and chat to other people a little bit more, even more so after lockdown when they all got to see each other in person again," Ms Frazer said.
"Plus, it's a really nice, open and light space at the centre. It's got a great buzz to it."
Even after lockdown restrictions end, the success of the online classes means they will continue to be offered by integratedliving.
The organisation has also been nominated for a number of wards due to its innovative response to COVID-19, including nominations for Best Active Ageing (Community) and Innovation of the Year at the 2021 Asia Pacific Eldercare Awards.
To learn more about the Muswellbrook Wellness Centre, the virtual classes, integratedliving's other services and how to access them, or to book an appointment to visit the centre, go to www.integratedliving.org.au or phone 1300 782 896.