Renée Desjardins believes doctors should prescribe regular exercise, along with medication, when they see a patient for high blood pressure.
Desjardins, a registered nurse based in Espanola with 15 years experience, dedicates most of her time to keeping seniors active. She spent much of her career working in dialysis, and saw firsthand the effect even 30 minutes of daily exercise could have in reducing a person's blood pressure.
To make it easier for older adults to excise on a regular basis, Desjardins joined an Espanola-based program called From Soup to Tomatoes about a year ago.
Registered nurse Susan Clark started the program to help seniors exercise from home, or from nearby community centres, with household items. They can get fit without having to buy any specialized equipment.
To do curls, for instance, a person can use a can of soup, and when they get stronger, they can move on to a heavier can of tomatoes.
Clark heard a long list of reasons as to why her clients were not able to exercise regularly. These included winter conditions on the roads, fear of falling, back pain and a lack of funds for exercise equipment or a gym membership.
To make From Soup to Tomatoes as accessible as possible, Clark collaborated with the Ontario Telemedicine Network to bridge the distance gap and bring the program to people's homes and community centres.
“Many people find it successful, especially if they live in rural areas, to go to a community centre and use their Internet access,” Desjardins said.
Each exercise session is recorded live. By visiting webcast.otn.ca clients can tune in to Desjardins' workout session and follow along with her detailed instructions.
If clients have webcams, Desjardins can even follow their progress in real-time, thanks to a computer monitor she watches during the session.
Some clients gather at the Espanola Elks Hall, or the Espanola Seniors Drop-in Centre, where they have the equipment to follow along.
Desjardins hosts a basic workout every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9-9:45 a.m. She also does a gentle workout, where all the exercises can be done from a seated position, on the same days from 10:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
Each workout session is archived on the Ontario Telemedicine Network website, and can be accessed any time at no cost.
Desjardins said she has seen big improvements in her clients' health since they have started the program. Some clients, she said, could not reach over their heads when they started, but now they have been able to improve their flexibility through regular stretches.
That improved flexibility makes them more independent, as it allows them to wash their own hair, for instance, when it would have been difficult or impossible before.
Desjardins said the program's popularity has grown steadily.
“They really get enthusiastic and want to do all kinds of things,” she said about her clients.