The United States Census Bureau projects the population of those 65 and older to increase from 16 to 23 percent by 2060. Nishnabe people revere elders, hoping to learn from them and pass on their traditions and wisdom. Citizen Potawatomi Nation offers many services elders utilize to stay full of life and free of pain, and Healthy Aging Month provides an opportunity to learn how to maintain an active lifestyle and independence.

Get moving

FireLake Wellness Center welcomes Tribal members free of charge. With workout equipment, a pool, a walking track and personal trainers, it provides an exercise routine for any age and level of ability. CPN physical therapist Elizabeth Thompson emphasized the key to aging well begins now.

Physical therapist Elizabeth Thompson encourages her patients to begin building up muscle mass at a comfortable level and slowly increase their workout.

“I think a lot of people get hung up on, ‘Oh, I’m too old,’ or ‘I’m young, and I don’t need to worry about that,’” she said. “We need to start as soon as possible and continue with that throughout the rest of our lives.”

The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day to improve overall health, especially balance, coordination, strength and endurance. Thompson recommends starting with what feels comfortable and gradually building up workout time and activities.

“For someone that’s older, a lot of times they hear, ‘Oh, get out and exercise,’ and they don’t think that they can do that. And it doesn’t have to start with 30 minutes. It doesn’t have to be lifting weights,” she said.

Easy home activities to elevate heart rate and build muscle mass include walking around the house, lifting milk jugs, bicep curls with cans of food and even sitting down and getting up. These activities aid in the reduction of osteoarthritis symptoms and overall joint pain.

“Gravitate toward something that you enjoy because you’re going to be much more likely to keep doing it if you enjoy it,” Thompson said.

Swimming and working out in water reduces the weight-bearing load on joints while achieving aerobics and strength training. Many of Thompson’s patients spend time in the pool at the wellness center.

“(They) benefit from the pool because they’re having difficulty walking on land. They’re having difficulty doing anything because they’re in such pain, and when they get in the pool, it’s like a totally different person,” she said.

She frequently reminds them, “It’s never too late.”

The wellness center’s personal trainers help build workout routines and navigate the equipment to ensure a comfortable and effective experience. It is open Monday through Thursday, 5 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturday 8 a.m. to noon. Visit or call 405-395-9304 for more information.

Eating right

Diet remains another critical component to wellness, working alongside exercise to round out a plan for day-to-day fitness. CPN Diabetes Program Staff in the wellness center provide the Diabetes Initiative Program to those with a consultation from their doctor, which includes a series of five classes called Beginning Education About Diabetes.

“Diet can have effects on our overall health as we age,” said Tribal dietitian Maggi Gilbert. “A healthy, balanced diet along with regular physical activity can promote strong bones, a healthy heart and digestive system, and cognitive health.”

She suggests clients use MyPlate, an easy-to-use nutrition guide for maintaining a balanced diet. The United States Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion released the diagram and plan in June 2011. It recommends one-quarter of a plate every meal to include non-starchy vegetables, a quarter whole grains, a quarter lean protein, and fill the remaining space with fruit and an occasional small serving of low-fat dairy on the side.

“Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are sources of fiber to promote better digestive health. Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy for calcium and vitamin D needed for bone health,” Gilbert said.

According to a Center for Disease Control report from 2017, nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population has diabetes. It also found Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, as a race, have the highest percentage of its population diagnosed. According to Gilbert, a balanced diet including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean and/or plant protein and low-fat dairy can help manage the disease.

“One common nutrition mistake I see as people get older is waiting until after they have a disease to make a change. Prevention is key,” she said. “If we can make healthy changes early on in life, then we may be able to prevent the disease from occurring.

“Develop healthy habits now,” such as incorporating vegetables into every meal.

Visit to find out more.

Finding harmony

The CPN Behavioral Health Department helps elders process the emotions and new mental hurdles that come with aging. Behavioral Health Specialist Ray Tainpeah explains the goal is balance.

“We look at creating a balance in their lives, and it’s more where they can take care of themselves emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually — what that means to them,” he said.

Physical activity improves mental health through providing a sense of accomplishment and lessening physical pain. Sometimes physical problems manifest themselves mentally, and seeing a counselor provides a safe space to express those worries.

Many of Tainpeah’s elderly patients enjoy keeping up with current events, looking at magazines and reading books, exercising their mental capacity and staying sharp.

Social activity also plays an important part in emotional well-being.

“Sometimes they go through some depression due to lack of family involvement. Sometimes they feel isolated, especially when they live alone. So, community involvement is often helpful,” Tainpeah said.

Elders circumvent loneliness by participating in group activities, and the Tribe’s Title VI program provides a place for those in Tribal housing to congregate to watch movies, play games and read together.

Mental development continues as people age. Erik Erickson’s Eight Stages of Psychosocial Development lays out linear levels of psychological milestones humans reach throughout their lives.

The eighth stage addresses growing older and looking back on accomplishments and finding validity in a life well-lived. This leads to feelings of integrity or despair. Tainpeah assists patients by focusing on their worthy contributions to the world, which often includes being a parent and grandparent.

“Sometimes you have to write it down and look at it,” he said. “It’s a constant reminder. ‘I’m not a failure. My kids are grown. They’re doing well. So, I have to look what I taught them: morals, values and principles and how they practice them.’

“Sometimes it takes a different exercise like that to validate their worthiness.”

Participating in spiritual activities, whether its Potawatomi ceremonies, church or exploring nature, aids in creating a sense of balance that Tainpeah emphasized.

“One of the teaching tools that we use is a traditional medicine wheel concept creating a sense of balance and harmony. Harmony is not feeling good, but it’s having a healthy outlook on life because our moods change from day to day,” he said. “Sometimes we feel good. Sometimes we have good days. Sometimes bad days, and oftentimes that’s the goal is to help people have more good days.”

Blue Zones

Journalist and author Dan Buettner studied the world’s longest-living populations to discover similarities amongst them and differences from others. He released two books, The Blue Zones and The Blue Zones Solutions, which led to the Blue Zones Project. The hands-on approach to developing healthier communities, including Pottawatomie County, focuses on making those choices also the easiest.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation Vice-Chairman Linda Capps serves as a Blue Zones Project Steering and Leadership Committee member.

The produce display is just one of the many renovated sections at FireLake Discount Foods.

As the largest employer in Pottawatomie County, Citizen Potawatomi Nation sought status as a Blue Zones-approved workspace. As of February 2019, the FireLake Wellness Center, Citizen Potawatomi Nation Health Services, Tribal Youth Services and First National Bank & Trust Co. achieved the Blue Zones label. First National Bank is the only approved bank in Oklahoma.

As a community leader, CPN took further steps to increase Pottawatomie County residents’ well-being. FireLake Discount Foods became the first Blue Zones Project-approved grocery store in the state in the summer of 2018. The redesign included access to quick, nutritious meals; expanding stock of fresh, wholesome products; and creating the Blue Zones Project checkout lane.

Granola bars, fruit and nuts line the Blue Zones Project lane instead of chips, candy bars and other sugary sweets for customers to throw on the conveyor belt while paying.

Communities committed to these kinds of changes that encourage exercise and rounded diets — filled with workspaces and enterprises that do the same — make aging well easier. With a free gym, healthy grocery store and workspaces designed with employee wellness in mind, Citizen Potawatomi Nation is a great place to live and grow older.

Find out more about the Blue Zones Project in Pottawatomie County at FireLake Discount Foods is online at The CPN Title VI Program provides additional resources and services for elders, such as meals, fun day trips and congregation space. Visit