By Autumn Gray
Albuquerque area residents age 55 and older will have to try a little harder to come up with excuses for sidelining health and fitness in 2023. Optum New Mexico recently opened a Community Center at 4010 Montgomery Blvd. NE, where local older adults can access wellness classes, educational events, and a state-of-the-art gym at no cost.
The center, designed as a welcoming space for seniors to improve their physical, mental, and emotional health, will be open to anyone who meets the age requirement. Guests of the center are not required to be Optum NM patients or even to have health insurance.
“This demographic is such a large part of the population and growing that we know we’re going to see a need for more care,” said community outreach coordinator Mykel Kirkpatrick. “If we can get ahead of it and focus on preventive care, we can keep this population out of the hospital and keep them healthier longer.”
Patti Miller, 67, can relate. The former aerobics instructor had for decades made a habit of staying active in her youth and into retirement, after 45 years as a dental hygienist. However, in recent years, the dancing and bicycling and other forms of exercise have taken a back seat as she cares for her 92-year-old mother.
“I see that end of it (life), and I want to arrive there in the best shape I can,” Miller said. To do that, I can’t just exercise; I can’t just eat well; I need the brain stimulation and all the other stuff, too. And it’s overwhelming to try to figure out how to get all of that on your own. But you can go to the community center and you can have fun, education, socialize, exercise – it’s all there. No need to go to three different places.”
Miller, who had just completed a Pilates class with a friend at the new facility, said she has also enjoyed yoga, tai chi, and the exercise machines at the center and plans to attend a class about memory retention. While she praised the center’s cleanliness and no-cost access, which she noted is vital for older folks on fixed incomes, she said she was most impressed with the knowledge of class instructors and the center’s culture of acceptance and encouragement.
“Now that I’m older, I notice there are things I can’t do like I used to, and it’s a little humbling,” Miller said. “The older you get, the more a gym doesn’t sound good for you anymore, and you look around there, and nobody looks like you. It’s not a place you fit. Here, you have like ages and like bodies.”
The Optum NM Community Center’s diverse program offerings also include dance classes; arts and crafts; fall assessment/fall prevention classes; and presentations on a variety of health topics, such as diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, incontinence management training, and exercise and stress management. There’s even a weekly movie day and unlimited free coffee and tea. A slate of additional programs is underway for the new year. For example, in collaboration with nonprofit animal shelter Animal Humane New Mexico, 2023 will include seminars about planning for the care of your pets beyond your lifetime (also known as pet estate planning). The first of these is scheduled for 1-2 p.m. January 6. To RSVP or to get more information, contact 505-938-7919 or [email protected]. Beginning January 9, the center will also offer a regular nutrition and diabetes course.
Classes are led by a mix of Optum NM providers and outside lecturers, and a calendar of events is available at the center.
Since the center opened in November, the strength and balance classes, the Alzheimer’s disease presentation, painting and jewelry-making workshops, and the gym have proven the most popular, Kirkpatrick said. The gym’s pneumatic resistance machines, which provide smooth and safe tension through compressed air as opposed to stacks of weights, are a highlight because they are designed with older adults in mind.
As of mid-December, community center staff had registered about 150 people as members. Registration takes only a few minutes, consisting of providing some personal information and getting a key card to access the building and take classes. To use the gym, a one-hour orientation is required.
Optum NM’s current and new patients may use the center for their annual Medicare wellness visit, as the Community Center shares its building with an Optum NM Primary Care Clinic. That combination affords Medicare Advantage (MA) plan members, who have selected Optum NM for their primary care, an exceptional benefit. When an MA plan member visits their Optum NM primary care provider for a physical, diabetes monitoring, cardiovascular checkup or other screening, the Optum NM provider can coordinate directly with the community center to help the patient meet their exercise and wellness goals.
Optum NM intends to open two more new community centers this year, Kirkpatrick said. Their locations have not been determined, but they will follow the same model as the Montgomery location.
The center’s opening day for 2023 is January 3. Regular business hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more details, visit nm.optum.com, or call 505.254.6500.