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Bridging the gap: promoting connection through fitness

By Valarie Flowers

GREENVILLE—One South Carolina woman is using her gifts to bridge a generational gap.

Ruth Hughes, director of children and leisure ministries at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Greenville, has found a way to connect with not only the children at her church, but also older adults throughout the state.  For the past three years, Hughes has led and developed recreational components for the S.C. Conference s annual Older Adults Spiritual Life Retreat.  She has a passion for promoting energy in people of all ages in the hopes that it will lead to spiritual growth and, ultimately, new excitement in life.

From exercise and line dancing to board games, Hughes coordinates diverse activities year after year for the equally diverse group attending the retreat.  Older adults at the weekend event range from new retirees in their 50s to those in their late 70s and 80s.

They re so much fun,  Hughes said.

But it is crossing the generational gap “ between those in their 50s and those in their 80s “ that Hughes has found to be the most challenging. After all, people in their 50s might enjoy a completely different set of recreational activities from those in their 80s. And with older adults now including both a generation of computer users and those who grew up during World War II, the challenge can be tough.

So Hughes works hard to find common ground. Knowing that health is important to both generations of adults, Hughes integrated components of the Body Recall program into the most recent older adult retreat, held in February in Myrtle Beach. The Body Recall program is a system of exercises designed to increase flexibility for older adults.  The exercises are light and pain-free.

I went to Kentucky to learn the class and used it at my own church almost 15 years ago,  Hughes said.  I decided to pick up aspects of the program to use at the older adult retreat. 

She said it worked well. Fitness-focused activities not only promote physical well-being, but also spiritual well-being, Hughes said. As the body and soul work in tandem, she said, these exercises also lift the spirits of older adults and encourage them to be more active and engaged.

While activities focused on health and fitness are a stable middle ground, Hughes is always searching for other common elements.  Music can be a challenge. In her work with youth, music can be a unifying force. But with the 50s-to-80s set, certain music can quickly alienate people.

I don t think that my 70- and 80-year-olds are going to want to hear the hip-hop,  she said, laughing.

Hughes does what she can to keep things fresh, vital and relevant. From fitness and music to other ways she can connect and revitalize people, she said, It s always changing. 

And if she can use her gifts and charisma to bridge the generational gap among older adults and help them find new energy and growth, then at the end of the day, she s done her job right.

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