League Of Women Voters Of Ames Report On Study Of Recreation Needs, Programs, And Facilities For Seniors In Story County

The Ames League of Women Voters in January, 2011, surveyed individuals, medical professionals, commercial/public recreation facilities and programs to determine availability of facilities, programs and needs of Story County seniors. Ames is the 3rd fastest growing area in the state. Story County senior population is expected to swell from 13,029 (State of Iowa Data Center) to 17,000 by 2020. This age group (over 60) is the county’s expanding demographic. In the study group’s research it was learned that communities in Iowa, as well as in neighboring states and across the nation, are competing to attract this demographic.

Story County senior citizens are a valuable asset. They provide a substantial tax base, volunteer tens of thousands of hours of expertise, and play a vital role in organizations, city commissions and various nonprofit groups. Some are able to donate substantial amounts of money to causes and projects that contribute to a thriving community. All of these contribute to Ames being cited as one of the Top Ten Places to Live (CNN Money.com), Fifth Best Place to Live a Simple Life (AARP) and Top Ten Real Estate Most Livable Bargain Markets (MSN).

Based on the survey information it was concluded that there are few programs offered specifically for seniors. None of the Story County communities reported a plan to address the recreation/wellness needs of the senior population. Recognizing that senior citizens are a valuable asset, other communities, both within and beyond the state, provide a variety of leisure/recreational programs/activities specifically for seniors.

Results from 180 individual questionnaires completed by Story County residents between the ages of 60-80 years, 39%of whom lived in Ames, listed wellness/recreational programs in which they participated. While many seniors walk, twenty five percent cited participating in bowling, 22% aquatic activities, 16% yoga or tai chi, and 35 % various other activities. When asked to name the activity in which they would participate in if available, 20% listed aquatic programs. Barriers to participation included availability and affordability, especially for ballroom dancing (41%), basketball (25%) and warm water pool (11%).

Completed surveys were received from 30 wellness /recreation program/facilities located throughout Story County including Parks and Recreation departments, retirement communities, subsidized senior housing, wellness related businesses, and hotel/motels with swimming pools. Just seven of those had a gymnasium, six had a walking place, four a lap pool and four a tennis court. Water aerobics (23%) was the most commonly offered program in which seniors participated and all of those were fee or membership based. Cost of providing such facilities/programs was identified as a barrier.

Physicians were asked what exercises or activities they most frequently recommend for seniors. All cited therapeutic water exercises and walking. Others cited walking, tai chi, yoga, dance, bicycling, zumba, yoga, bowling and golf. A need for an indoor walking track was noted. Members in the study group added that more opportunities for therapeutic warm water programs are needed. The director of the Ames Free Medical Clinic which serves a large number of seniors emphasized that cost and transportation are large barriers for their senior population to any kind of wellness program.


Indications from this study and accompanying research show that it is in the best interest of Story County to plan for the increasingly large demographic of older adults. Quality of life for seniors includes facilities and programs for physical well being. Iowa communities that want to be prepared for the increase in senior population as the baby boomers enter retirement age need to plan for the future. Providing recreational and wellness activities benefit not only the elders among us and but makes the community more welcoming for everyone else.

In light of the results of this study, the League of Women Voters of Ames:

  • Supports programs that educate about the importance of exercise and an active life style in promoting well being and good health for Story Country seniors
  • Supports adequate facilities for wellness/exercise activities including, but not limited to, indoor walking, warm water exercise, ballroom dancing, yoga and tai chi
  • Supports public/private cooperation in providing recreation facilities and programs for Story County seniors, and
  • Supports exploration of ways to subsidize fees for prescribed exercise/wellness programs for seniors in Story County for whom expense is an obstacle.