A Beautiful Way to Stay Fit for Life

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Plymouth Harbor Wellness Center
With a history spanning 50 years, Plymouth Harbor on Sarasota Bay’s roots run deep in the Sarasota community. Its high-rise building sits prominently at the gateway to St. Armands Circle, but many don’t realize what a vibrant community of retirees is housed within. Its residents enjoy life with friends amid some of the area’s most beautiful surroundings with modern-day amenities akin to a luxury resort.

Plymouth Harbor’s re-imagined Wellness Center is one example of the depth with which the award-winning not-for-profit Life Plan Community enriches residents’ lives. A philosophy that embraces a multidimensional view of what wellness truly means extends to staff as well. Of course, the physical aspect of wellness is foundational to a life well lived, and that has always been an integral part of Plymouth Harbor (941.365.2600/plymouthharbor.org). “We’ve been involved with fitness for over 50 years, but the fitness center of yesteryear is not today’s wellness center,” said Gordon Okawa, Vice President of Marketing and Community Affairs. “Each generation has had its own values about keeping active, but baby boomer retirees have taken that to a whole new level.”

As a result, Plymouth Harbor leadership, along with a committee of residents, began a process in 2010 to redefine wellness strategically and redesign its fitness program. A capital campaign was launched in 2013 to raise $1.1 million to transform the nearly windowless, basement-like fitness facility into a stunning 10,000-square-foot space that would meet both physical and social needs for residents. Wellness Director Chris Valuck was hired to develop programming goals and work alongside senior leadership with THW Design, an Atlanta-based architectural firm that specializes in senior living and healthcare, to design the facility.

“Our intent was to support all dimensions of wellness. We have a diverse range of group fitness classes that attract residents of all ability levels and interests, and the fitness room is large enough for ballroom dancing and private parties,” Valuck said. “Our fitness center boasts state-of-the-art strength training and cardiovascular equipment, and The Commons area provides a space for socializing with friends, quiet reading or just an opportunity to relax and enjoy the beautiful bay views.” And those views of Sarasota Bay are nothing short of stupendous.

With interior and exterior walls of glass, the views can be enjoyed whether spending time on the treadmill, strength training, or taking a class in the fitness room. The artful design capturing those vistas helped THW Design and Plymouth Harbor earn a spot among the Top 10 in Environments for Aging’s Remodel/Renovation Competition Single Spaces category. Pleasing aesthetics aside, there’s no doubt fitness is the focus with a full range of KEISER, TRUE and NuStep training equipment, along with a BIODEX Balance System, and Upper Body Ergometer.

Staff members also are encouraged to use the Wellness Center; a natural extension of the warm relationship that always has existed between staff and residents, which is at the heart of what makes Plymouth Harbor unique. In 2015, its OnBoard Employee Wellness Program earned a Best Practice Award from LeadingAge Florida, which recognizes those who develop programs that are models of excellence, innovation and best practices at work. “Our OnBoard Employee Wellness Program serves as a means to focus not only on the health and wellness of our employees, who we consider vital members of the Plymouth Harbor family, but it also serves as a vehicle to expand relationships,” said Harry Hobson, President and CEO. “OnBoard provides opportunities for everyone to interact on a different and refreshing level with one another during a workout or exercise class.”

The Wellness Center offers a full roster of group fitness classes, including yoga, tai chi, meditation, Feldenkrais, sit fit, functional fitness, better balance and much more, such as line dancing, tap dancing and private ballroom dance instruction. A variety of aquatics exercise classes are held in the indoor and outdoor pools. The Wellness Center also includes a well-equipped Art Studio with 20 artist stations and a Wood/Hobby Shop with all tools necessary for serious woodworking along with a craft area. There is a gaming area with a ping-pong table and an Xbox 360 Kinect gaming system that is popular with residents and visiting grandchildren. A bocce court is nestled between the outdoor pool and the breakwall.

“Coming to the Wellness Center is a great opportunity for residents and staff to improve their quality of life. They feel so fortunate,” Valuck said. “We also take advantage of outdoor opportunities for physical activity, like group kayaking through the mangroves. Or, a resident may take tap dance classes and improve their balance in the process. It makes staying healthy more fun and has become a way of life for my regular participants.”

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