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VA Syracuse helps older adults build strength, live the life they want

Veterans participating in VA Syracuse virtual Gerofit exercise class.
Veterans participate in a virtual group Gerofit exercise class, led by physical therapists at the Syracuse VA Medical Center. As a part of Gerofit, Veterans are given a personal exercise program based on their physical profile and goals.

“Life is so much easier. I can do so many more things,” shared Matt Deskiewicz, a Veteran who participates in the Gerofit program. “I can walk, climb stairs, and pick up my grandkids.”

Deskiewicz, is one of the original members of the 10-month-old Gerofit program at Syracuse VA. Participants, who are aged 65 or older, work individually with physical therapists to identify goals, and attend a four-day-a week virtual training program offering structured exercise and yoga.

A typical Gerofit-class routine is instructor-led and includes five parts: warm-up, cardio activity, strength training, balance training and a cool down or mindfulness practice. “What that can look like is, an instructor is demonstrating the exercise while a second physical therapist is doing an alternative exercise for a different ability level,” explains Toni May, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Syracuse VA’s Gerofit program director.

“Before a Veteran attends a training session, every participant meets with our team for a baseline test, we want to know how strong their arms and legs are, and how their endurance is so we can give them a specific exercise plan. Participants will do the same tests at 3-month intervals so we understand how they are progressing and will adjust the programming.”

Access to evidence-based, instructional physical fitness programming can be difficult in rural communities. The wait times for care and far distances may delay a Veteran from starting a physical fitness habit. Gerofit is one tool to solve that problem. It provides Veterans better access to consistent physical activity, one of the most important things people can do to improve their health.

 “I trained almost every day [in Gerofit] to get my mobility back,” explained Terry Butler, a Veteran with a hip and back injury. “I have a walker and I am walking on my own now. I haven’t felt this good in years.”

Older adults should aim for at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) [1]. Physically active older adults are less likely to experience falls, and if they do fall, they are less likely to be seriously injured.

We are helping Veterans feel confident in their ability to live life to the fullest. 80% of participants improved their leg strength, measured by the chair stand test, during their three-month assessments, explained May. “We are seeing similar improvements so far for the arm curl and two-minute step tests-which measure arm strength and endurance.”

To join or learn more about the program, ask your primary care provider or call Toni May, DPT, VA Syracuse’s Gerofit program director, at phone numbers 315-425-6842 and 315-559-8343.


[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018

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