Wednesday, September 26, 2018 by Maryanne Firth
(originally on Brock University website)

While the quest to stay healthy and fit can come with its challenges at any age, a new set of obstacles tend to appear as people get older.

Health issues creep in, movement gets difficult and flexibility becomes limited.

But through a new commercial partnership, Brock University wants to help Niagara seniors take on those hurdles — and, in the process, study what works to keep them healthy.

The University is collaborating with Wellness Suites Condominiums to expand the SeniorFit and Heart Strong programs already offered at the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being in St. Catharines. The partnership will see Brock Kinesiology and Health Sciences students guiding senior residents of the Niagara Falls development through personalized exercise and rehabilitation programs on a path to healthy living.

Currently under construction, the nine-storey Wellness Suites facility includes 97 residential units, a 5,500 square-foot Functional Medicine Centre designed to house Brock’s programs, and numerous other amenities. The $31-million Main Street project is slated for completion in September 2019.

While the Faculty has partnered with health and government agencies, as well as non-governmental and community organizations in the past, this entrepreneurial exercise is unique for Brock, said Faculty of Applied Health Sciences Dean Peter Tiidus.

“This is a win-win situation,” he said. “It takes us out into the community, gets students working with more local seniors and provides additional research opportunities in an important health field.”

The partnership will provide valuable experiential education opportunities for students who are pursuing careers in rehabilitation, medicine, physiotherapy, kinesiology and other health-care professions, allowing them to develop skills by working in real-life situations.

It will also allow Brock researchers to study how the facility’s “personalized medicine” programs, which include assessing cognition, nutrition, genetics, hormones, bodily toxins and the microbiome of the gut, impact residents, said Wellness Suites President Dr. Nick Vaccaro.

“We will offer the latest, most innovative services and technology to help take care of people and to study how to keep them young as they’re getting older,” he said.

The Functional Medicine Centre will use bioinformatics — a field of science that combines biology, computer sciences, mathematics and statistics to analyze and interpret biological data — to assess and monitor the progress of clients, and see which lifestyle modifications are most effective.

“It’s an ideal fit for a graduate student project that would then be potentially publishable in a credible journal,” Tiidus said.

Deborah O’Leary, Health Sciences Professor and Director of the Brock-Niagara Centre for Health and Well-Being, is working with Vaccaro to design the space and determine the fitness and research-related equipment required for the facility.

“Nick is building his vision, but he’s using Brock expertise to help him along the way,” she said.

“As the current SeniorFit and Heart Strong programs have already been successful — helping 450 clients a year with health-related goals — it’s a matter of expanding and introducing those programs in the new facility,” Vaccaro said. “We want to grow with the University and expand research parameters into the genetic, molecular and cellular levels. We are currently working at partnering with other highly innovative diagnostic companies.”

Wellness Suites is providing the capital, infrastructure and equipment for the project, with Brock providing its expertise and a co-ordinator for the physical rehabilitation centre and integration with other researchers at Brock.

“This is something that may lead to great collaborations with a similar model being used elsewhere in Niagara and beyond,” Tiidus said. “We’re excited to expand the offerings of the Health and Well-Being Centre for clients, for students and for researchers.”

Vaccaro has a long history of working with faculty members at the University during his 35-year career as a chiropractor in Niagara.

“I’ve had this vision to partner with Brock for a long time — decades — and now’s the time,” he said.

Details of Brock’s programming at the facility are expected to be finalized by the end of 2018. For more information visit

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