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Seniors SAIL Into Ship-Shape

By Brock Hires

Okanogan Living

Senior citizens across the state are ‘SAIL-ing’ into ship-shape with the “Stay Active and Independent for Life” exercise program.

The program, simply called ‘SAIL,’ was developed by the state Department of Health and is geared toward promoting balance and fitness in senior citizens.

In Tonasket, the program will celebrate its 14th anniversary this fall.

“I heard about it (the program) in 2006,” said René Todd, who is a leader of the program at the Tonasket Senior Center.

Todd summarized the program as a way to “Have fun, socialize and do something good for yourself.”

The local group has an average of about 20 participants ranging in ages from their 60s to 93.

After learning of the program, Todd attended a training class and made it her mission to bring the program to Okanogan County. Since then, she’s helped to train leaders how to implement SAIL into their communities, introducing the program to Oroville, Loomis, Havillah, Riverside, Brewster, Wilbur, Grand Coulee and two in Omak.

“There’ are groups in pretty much every town except Okanogan,” she said. “My dream is to get the tribal senior center going.”

Todd said its recommended to have at least two trained leaders at each location to ensure the program can run smoothly in case a leader needs to take time off here and there. Along with Todd, Sherri Laurie, Linda Topping and Rose Rawley help to lead the Tonasket group.

To become a leader, you must attend a sponsored, in-person class, or enroll in an online course through Pierce College.

The program came to be after a study of 453 adults aged 65 and older in Pierce and Spokane counties who participated in a senior falls prevention study from 2003-2005.

According to the Living Well with Chronic Conditions in Washington State website, performing exercises that improve strength, balance and fitness are the “single most important activity that adults can do to stay active and reduce their chances of falling.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said one in three adults aged 65 and older falls each year.

Though the program is designed for fall prevention, Laurie said the moderate exercise is helpful for recovering surgery and physical therapy patients.

“It’s just amazing,” she said, noting she recently underwent hip surgery.

“Sherri was back three weeks after surgery,” Todd said.

Each September, the Tonasket group hosts a get together in recognition of National Falls Prevention Awareness Week.

“The entire curriculum of activities in the SAIL program can help improve strength and balance, if done regularly,” said a statement from the Department of Health. “SAIL is a public-domain program, which means there are no initial site license fees and no yearly renewal fees for conducting SAIL classes.

SAIL is an evidence-based fall prevention program centered around a strength, balance and fitness program.

One-hour classes are offered two-three times per week and the exercises can be done standing or sitting.

The foundational research study for the SAIL Program was published in the Journal of Gerontology in 2007. Older adults in the intervention group of this randomized controlled trial demonstrated significant improvements in the reduction of fall risk factors.

In September 2012, SAIL was recognized as a Title IIID – Evidence-Based Program by the Administration on Aging. SAIL met the highest level criteria for an evidence-based program, opening the door for other states to use federal funding to bring SAIL to their communities.

In Canada a similar program “Strategies for Actions for Independent Living,” is offered, also a fall prevention.

In Washington state, the SAIL program is offered throughout the state at no cost.

For more information about the program, contact Todd at 509-429-4847, or see



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