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AARP’s Vision for Healthy Aging: A Community-Focused Approach

What do older adults want? The answer is simple: “a society in which all people can live with dignity and purpose and fulfill their goals and dreams.” This vision, articulated by Ethel Percy Andrus when she founded AARP in 1958, remains at the core of the organization’s mission: “enabling people to choose how they live as they age.”

Central to AARP’s mission is providing health security, encompassing health care, caregiving and brain health. Andrus was instrumental in advocating for health insurance for older adults who could no longer work due to age, an effort that ultimately led to the establishment of Medicare as we know it today.

Recent research by the Global Office on Brain Health, a collaborative initiative of AARP, identifies six pillars crucial to brain health: being social, engaging your brain, managing stress, ongoing exercise, restorative sleep, and eating right.

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Recognizing exercise as a vital component of brain health and healthy aging, AARP worked with FitLot, Inc., to construct model outdoor exercise facilities in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In Virginia, this facility was established at Williams Farm Park in Virginia Beach.

On June 6, 2022, a volunteer with AARP Virginia attended the ribbon-cutting for this new exercise facility. Impressed with its potential benefits, she inquired about the possibility of having a similar facility in her part of the state. Unfortunately, she learned that there would be only one such facility per state.

Later that month, AARP announced the winners of the 2022 AARP Community Challenge Grants, part of its Livable Communities program designed to help communities support aging in place. This announcement sparked an idea for the volunteer: applying for a Community Challenge grant that could provide the necessary funding for an exercise facility in her area.

To bring this idea to life, the AARP volunteer--who also volunteers with the Local Office on Aging (LOA) in Roanoke, which serves the surrounding area and is one of 25 area agencies on aging in Virginia--made an appointment with LOA’s CEO to present her idea. She soon learned that Ron Boyd had already envisioned an outdoor exercise area as part of the LOA’s Health and Wellness Center. Boyd was familiar with AARP's Community Challenge grant program and liked the idea.

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In 2023, the LOA applied for the grant and was one of seven projects in Virginia to receive funding. Nationally, 310 projects were chosen from more than 3,600 applicants, with grants totaling $3.6 million. On Tuesday, May 14, 2024, local dignitaries, staff and LOA volunteers along with AARP Virginia representatives gathered to celebrate the ribbon-cutting and grand opening of Roanoke’s Outdoor Senior Exercise Area.

AARP members Natalie Murphy and her husband, Davis Murphy, were among recent visitors to the exercise facility. Natalie has issues with her knee and finds the new facility a perfect place to do her independent rehabilitation exercises. Davis has had health issues of his own and works alongside his wife to regain some of his strength, lost due to prior immobility from hospitalization.

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The new exercise area is accessible Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Health and Wellness Center of the LOA located at 4932 Frontage Road in Roanoke. For more information on the Six Pillars of Brain Health, click here. For details about AARP’s Community Challenge grant program, click here. The grant application period is closed for 2024. Grants for 2025 will be promoted beginning in January 2025.

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