A year of isolation has taken a strong toll on many seniors’ health, but in Santa Monica WISE’s virtual programming has helped over 400 aging residents stay fit, mentally stimulated, and socially connected.

While the Club WISE senior center is closed for in-person services, WISE & Healthy aging, a nonprofit social services organization, has brought its many classes online. Although some seniors were initially hesitant about the virtual programming, WISE workers spent time teaching members how to set up their Zoom classes and have been very impressed by members’ responses.

“Man do their faces light up when they get to see each other in each other’s living rooms,” said Brandi Orton, vice president, WISE member services & management. “None of them had ever been on Zoom before and they love that they can see each other and that they feel connected in that way.”

WISE now offers around 60 virtual programs a month including art classes, exercise classes, wellness discussions, cooking tutorials, and lectures by college professors. For many members, this has been an essential resource over the past year.

Living through the pandemic has been challenging for everyone but especially for elderly community members. Many of these individuals lost all access to their social circles, their exercise outlets, and even their families.

Those residing in assisted living centers were often confined to their rooms for months at a time as their facilities went into full lock-downs to avoid the risk of a devastating outbreak.

“It’s very heart wrenching to hear some of them say ‘I don’t go out because I might die; I love my grandchildren and I’m missing watching them grow up’, so they’re not only socially isolated, but they’re sitting at home with a fear of death,” said Orton.

Constant sitting in place is very bad for seniors citizens’ physical health, as they need regular exercise to keep their aging bodies strong. Social isolation also takes a toll on many individuals’ mental health, which has also been shown to reduce the longevity of elderly citizens. Furthermore, a lack of intellectual stimulation can decrease seniors’ mental acuity.

WISE’s virtual classes have been able to address all of these challenges, providing a vital resource to strengthen members’ mental, physical, and emotional health during the pandemic.

Some of the health and fitness classes include yoga, tai chi, meditative movement, chair aerobics for people with arthritis and healing sound and breath work. They are also launching a special exercise and education class called ‘A Matter of Balance’ that has been proven to reduce the amount of falls senior citizens experience.

WISE’s lecture and tutorial classes span a vast range of topics. Upcoming offerings include ‘Hernan Cortez and the Aztec Conquest’, ‘The Search for True Mary Magdalene’, and ‘Funny Consequences of Technology’.

“Being able to participate in the lecture series that we have is stimulating because it allows you to immerse yourself in a different world just by being in your living room,” said Orton. “A lot of the classes have participation pieces, so it’s not just lectures where members are listening to an instructor talk but they are also actively engaging,” said Orton.

While Club WISE looks forward to hopefully welcoming members back in-person some time this fall, they will be running their virtual classes all spring and summer long. Orton said anyone who wants to learn more or sign up should call WISE at 310-394-9871.