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Beyond the Board Games: Seniors Embracing More Ways to Get Physically and Mentally Fit

Written by  Christy Rippel

Seniors are having a moment. As the U.S. population trends upward in age, the definition of what it means to be a “senior citizen” is shifting.

The image of a retiree lounging in a recliner all day, or needing a walker to get around, is an outdated stereotype. There are many options available to area seniors to keep them engaged and healthy – both physically and mentally.

At the Senior Center of Charlottesville, for example, active hiking groups explore the hills and mountains of the Blue Ridge twice a week. One recent hike was a 10-mile loop, a secluded trek through the Rapidan Wildlife Management Area of Virginia, with hidden swimming holes and breathtaking views.

While seniors are living longer than ever—average U.S. life expectancy increased from 68 years in 1950 to 79 years in 2013—they also have opportunities to live better, particularly in an area like Charlottesville, where fitness, cultural and outdoor opportunities abound.

Charlottesville has become a retirement destination, and because of its offerings, in 2015 the area was named one of the “Top 10 Best Places to Retire” by 

Many retirees find that, once relieved of the stress and time commitment of careers and raising families, they have an opportunity to explore long-held interests or develop new hobbies. The Senior Center of Charlottesville recognizes this, and with the tagline “Healthy aging never gets old,” they offer programs ranging from chair yoga to art classes to lectures on elder law issues.

The Senior Center of Charlottesville is an open membership for adults 50 and over, with over 2000 members. For a yearly membership fee, members gain access to many included programs, with some requiring an additional fee. While the fittest among the membership engage in challenging fitness pursuits like hiking, there are fitness opportunities for all, including an arthritis exercise class and Parkinson’s yoga, says Jennifer Ayers, program director at the center. There are just as many opportunities for mental stimulation, like a well-regarded travel program.

“One of our travel lecturers is a history expert, and is specifically knowledgeable about Virginia history,” says Ayers. “And there are trips in and around Virginia that members can participate in that are related to lecture topics like, for instance, the Civil War or Thomas Jefferson.”

In addition to the Senior Center of Charlottesville, the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) has been serving the needs of seniors in Charlottesville and surrounding counties since 1975 and operates seven of its own senior centers with similar offerings—they span Southern Albemarle County, Louisa County, Nelson County, Fluvanna County and Greene County.

Higher Education Classes at Affordable Rates for Seniors

Another opportunity for seniors to learn and engage with the community is through the University of Virginia’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), which offers 165 different courses designed for adults over 50 with low membership fees and course rates. Scholarships and discounts are available to maximize access to the program, which had approximately 1,900 students at last count. Courses range from playwriting to war history, to practical courses on living better. OLLI also offers outings for its membership, like a bus trip to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. Senior citizens may also be able to take some UVA classes outside of OLLI free of charge with a waiver, but only if space allows after all tuition-paying students have been accommodated.

In addition to UVA’s offerings, there is another option for higher education in Virginia for seniors. Road Scholar is a worldwide network of educational opportunities for students who are at least 55 years old, though spouses and traveling companions may be younger. For a fee, a senior student receives room, board and challenging college-level liberal arts and humanities courses for three to six days. No prior academic experience is necessary and people from all backgrounds participate. The Virginia Center on Aging, with headquarters at Virginia Commonwealth University, sponsors nearly 40 Road Scholar programs per year at several sites in Virginia.

SilverSneakers Fitness Program Helps Keep Seniors Active at No Cost

SilverSneakers is a fitness program offered through participating health plans that gives seniors access to 13,000 gyms nationwide, plus social events, signature classes, and workout plans at no cost. The program is available around the country, and membership provides access to any participating gym location – including all amenities included with basic level access. Each location is outfitted with an advisor who will introduce you to the program and help get you started.

According to SilverSneakers, twice as many of its members report being in “excellent” or “very good” health compared to the national average.

To learn more about SilverSneakers, visit

Attention, Active Senior Citizens!

Start here to get out, get involved and learn something new:

Senior Center of Charlottesville


The Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA)

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at the University of Virginia

Road Scholar, through Virginia Commonwealth University


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