By Jonathan E. Coleman
The Cabarrus Senior Center took on the feel of a bowling alley earlier this month, with the sounds of bowling pins colliding and the smell of freshly-cooked popcorn in the air.
Seniors took turns lining up their stance, taking aim and perfecting their backswings.
The only thing missing was the bowling ball.
As part of a new program at the Senior Center, officials are looking for new ways to integrate technology into programs to offer new levels of health and fitness opportunities to the county’s older population.
The latest effort uses technology most often reserved for much younger generations.
The Nintendo Wii is a video gaming system that supports a wide array of games. Its wireless remote controls allow — and in many cases, require — a more active approach to playing games than more traditional video game systems.
“We try to promote an overall wellness concept with increased physical activity,” said Mike Murphy, the center’s director. “Anything that gets people up and out of the house and active has got to be a good thing.
“There are a lot of people we have here who can participate in the virtual games and are active, but it’s not as strenuous as getting out there on the field.”
That’s certainly the case for Willene Price, who was on hand to take part in the Senior Center’s Wii clinic, the first of which introduced seniors to the game through a bowling exercise.
“I bowled for about 20 years, and it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve bowled,” she said. “I had to quit because of shoulder pain. I minded the doctor.”
But with the Wii, Price traded in a 12-pound bowling ball for a small (and light-weight) handheld remote control.
As she stepped forward for her turn, it was as though she stepped back in time 20 years. Her form returned and she knocked down nine of the frame’s 10 pins with her first “ball”. With her next ball, she picked up the spare.
It wasn’t her first time using the Wii, Price admitted. In fact, she has one of her own.
“I never did like the games where you just sit there and do everything with your thumbs,” she said. “This is so much better because you’re actually doing it.”
It’s definitely a workout, Price admitted.
“When I play tennis, I have to turn the ceiling fan on high,” she said with a laugh.
But that’s exactly the reason the Senior Center wanted to invest in the gaming system.
Murphy said the center purchased four systems with money provided by a state grant. If the program is successful, he hopes to purchase additional units to have on hand at each of the center’s six sites around the county.
In addition to the basic system, Murphy has purchased an additional component called the Wii Fit. The special exercise pad offers a wide range of games to improve balance, stretching and strength.
As seniors master the basics, Murphy and Teresa Kiser, the center’s program coordinator, hope to establish sports leagues and set up tournaments to encourage continued participation.
“What we don’t want to do is just to make this a play time,” Murphy said. “If we keep it structured, we can keep the interest there.”
As for those who are nervous about adapting to new technology, Price offered some simple, but practical advice.
“It’s kind of like aerobics. You may not be doing it right, but you’re still getting lots of exercise.”
• Contact reporter Jonathan E. Coleman at 704-789-9105.