Category Archives: Fit and Fun Month

Meet Merrill Gardens – Hiker in Chief Corneil Vacirca

We’re rounding out Fit and Fun Month at Merrill Gardens with a profile of one of our Fittest and Most Fun team members, Corneil Vacirca. We sat down and had a conversation about hiking and the outdoors.

1) Hi Corneil. Can you tell us a little bit about your role at Merrill Gardens?
I am the Director of Sales. My mission is to help educate, equip and encourage our community sales teams so that they can help more people understand how great life can be when they choose to move into one of our communities. I help develop programs so our team members can focus on building relationships with our future residents and their families, and walk them through what they need to know when making this very important life decision.

Corneil Hikiing2) A little bird told us you are an outdoor and hiking enthusiast. What drew you to this activity?
Sometimes keeping all of the balls in the air can get a little overwhelming. For me, spending time in the outdoors is the ultimate escape! No phones, no computers, no deadlines. Just me and the beauty of God’s creation and a great physical challenge! My husband is a fisheries biologist for the US Forest Service who lives and breathes the outdoors. He took me for my first real hikes. (If he ever tells you the destination is “just over that ridge” prepare to hike for at least 3 more hours!). I fell for him and the outdoors in one fell swoop! It’s been a 20+ year love affair with both that’s still going strong!

3) Do you have a favorite place in Seattle to hike?
I actually make my home in Wenatchee and spend most of the work week in Seattle. So the only “hike” I’ve done in Seattle is in Ravenna Park, which is lovely. But in Wenatchee, I love hiking the Wenatchee Foothills Trail. The Sage Hills trailhead is less than a mile from my front door, so it is great for a quick trail run or an easy hike. The wildflowers are amazing in the springtime!

4) If someone wanted to get started with some easy hiking, where would you suggest they start?
Start in your own neighborhood! Especially here in Seattle, there are great walking trails all around. If you’d like to get away from the city and more deeply into nature, the great thing about Seattle is that you can drive 30-45 minutes in any direction and be able to find a trailhead. The Washington Trails Association has a great website and if you click on the “Find a Hike” button, your possibilities are endless!

Corneil Camping5) What’s the toughest hike, mountain, marathon, etc.. that you tackled and completed?
I’ve been an avid day-hiker for many years, but last year I graduated to multi-night backpacking trips. Our best (and longest) trip of the summer was a three day/night trip in Central Washington (Leavenworth/Chelan area) from Phelps Creek Basin, through Spider Meadows and over Spider Gap, through Lyman Lakes, Heart Lake and to Holden Village. It was a total of about 21 miles.

6) Ever seen a scary animal on the trail? I saw a bear camping on the Rogue River years ago and almost paddled home. (I was camping, not the bear.)
Fortunately I haven’t run into any scary animals on a trail. But we did see pretty fresh bear track on the trail near Heart Lake last summer. We did have a camping trip many years ago when a bear thrashed around our campsite looking for food. He destroyed a foam cooler and broke into a regular cooler. We learned that lesson the hard way – now we tie up all of the food in a tree!

7) What’s the right thing to do if I see a bear on the Burke-Gilman trail?
Don’t run! Hopefully you are prepared and have bear spray, just in case.

8) Besides bear spray, is there a piece of hiking equipment or clothing that we all should own?
Proper fitting hiking shoes can make or break your hike! (If you read Wild by Cheryl Strayed you get a very vivid picture of not having the proper footwear – ouch!). If the feet aren’t happy – the hiker isn’t happy!

9) What are some other outdoor activities you enjoy?
I enjoy running (especially when I’m able to visit our communities in Southern California and run along the beach!), swimming, snorkeling and biking. I tried paddle boarding last summer and that was awesome! Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee had a free outdoor yoga class last summer and that was great – though don’t know if that technically qualifies! 🙂

10) In a city where the weather is so unpredictable, how do you get outdoors during some of those “less sunny” months?
I grew up in the high desert of New Mexico, so I wasn’t sure how I’d adjust to Seattle’s weather, but I have to say it is really not that bad (don’t worry, I won’t tell the rest of the world!). Give it an hour or two and it usually changes up! And it is hard to beat a sunny day in Seattle – there is no better city to enjoy on a gorgeous sunny day!

Corneil Mountain 11) What’s your favorite part of being outdoors?
I love the sounds and the colors. Hearing the wind rustle through the trees, the water running over the rocks of a stream, the squirrels squeals warning their fellow creatures that we’re coming and the sound of my boots hitting the dirt, just makes me happy. When the blue of the sky meets the green of the trees and the grey of the mountains spotted with white snow all reflected in the crystal clear mirror of a glacial lake… it is my paradise and instant “ohm” for me!

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6 Ways Your Phone Can Make Exercise More Fun

Ah fitness. It’s come a long way from the days of jumping jacks, jump-rope and jazzercise. Technology is making it easier than ever to find new exercises, track  progress and find partners to work out with.

If you are using your smartphone to video chat with loved ones and follow friends on Facebook, you may want to download (or have a loved one download) a couple of neat programs to help your exercise routine.

Gain Fitness
Gain Fitness

Are you the type of person who gets bored doing the same exercise every day? If so, then Gain Fitness is for you. It’s like having a personal trainer inside your phone. It has more than 1,300 exercises to choose from, which lets you basically do 2 new exercises a day for 2 straight years. You can look at sharp video images or listen to your friendly trainer deliver step-by-step voice commands. You tell it what you want to accomplish, and it tells you which exercises to do.

Even better, this app is free for your iPhone or iPad.

Argus App

Maybe you don’t have any problems scheduling your exercise, but you want a better way to track your progress. Then argus may be a great choice. The program will keep track of step you take, along with anything else you want to track (within reason.) Then it displays a number of helpful charts that you can show to your physical therapist to prove you are doing what you are told. Use it over time and you may find some trends in your personal health habits.

This is another free app on your iPhone and iPad.

LoseIt App
If you are trying to cut a couple of pounds, you might want to try LoseIt!, a calorie tracking program that creates a personal weight loss plan. You decide your goals and this program automatically devises a weight loss program that fits your life. How does it track the calories? Its unique barcode scanner feature lets you basically take pictures of the packaged food you eat. It also has a vast database of foods that you can choose from so you track each meal. If you are the copetitive type or need a little cammaraderie in your weight loss program, LoseIt! has ways to challenge your friends head to head, or build team based contests.
It’s another free app, and has broad reach on iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle, and Nook.


Not of us have a personal grocery shopper making sure we buy healthy items. With Shopwell you scan a product’s bar code, and like magic, you find out how good the product is for you. Just give it a little data about your dietary needs, age, gender, health goals, and food preferences (or have someone do it for you). You won’t have to try to figure out which combination of sugar, carbs, protein and Vitamin C is best – the program will automatically score the item from 0-100.

It’s free on iPhone and iPad.

Health Mate by Withings
HealthMate App

For many of us, it’s important to watch more than just weight and calories. Health Mate from Withings lets us track a number of personal stats like activity, blood pressure, and sleep all in one place. It’s also our virtual source of inspiration. When we’re feeling like sitting on the couch and skipping a workout “Health Mate” sends fun and supportive messages. It’s like having your own private motivational speaker keeping you on track and in a good mood.

It’s free as well, and available on iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

Human App

We admit it. Some of us need a little prodding to get in our daily exercise. Human prompts and rewards you for doing a few minutes of exercise at a time until you get your recommended daily dose of 30 minutes. So whether you take the pooch for a walk, play a game of Wii Bowling, or do a little dance in the courtyard – Human counts and tracks this as exercise and lets you know when you hit your 30 minutes.

Another free app on iPhone and iPad.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to fitness apps. If you have some that you use and love let us know below.

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Exercise + Gaming: A Formula for Fitness Fun

Going to the gym used to mean running on the treadmill or pumping iron in the weight room, but we think that sometimes, that’s just a little too boring. Sure, you can still do those things if you want, but no one’s ever going to confuse either of those activities with anything even remotely resembling something “fun.” That’s where our new SMART (Sensory Motor Activity Reaction Training) Sportwall System comes in.

Merrill Gardens Sportswall

The Sportwall covers all the fitness bases: it’s  a combination of enjoyable, safe and ability-scaled physical activity, multisensory cognitive stimulation and even social engagement. But most of all, it’s actually fun to do. It’s the best way for our residents to get a great workout without feeling like they’re actually working out. It’s exercise without realizing you’re exercising.

But hey, it’s not all fun and games— there’s some serious science behind this thing. Studies show that some of the most important aspects for “successfully aging” include promoting joint health, maintaining ideal body weight, and improving functional mobility for common activities of daily life.

With the Sportswall’s rapid moving, socially engaging, low impact, “quick thinking” gaming programming, all these goals (and more!) are achieved in a way that challenges and delights users physically and cognitively.  It also helps that the gaming side of the program creates a motivational and self-competitive environment, always driving our residents to beat their latest high-score!

Want to see what the Sportswall can do? Here’s a great video preview:


This cool new technology is being installed at our new communities in Huntington Beach and Lafayette, California and we can’t wait to see our residents in action!

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It’s Fit and Fun Month at Merrill Gardens

The sun is shining, the kids are almost out of school and the sounds of baseball are echoing around the playgrounds.

It’s May! That fabulous month between April and summer.

That’s why this month is Fit and Fun Month at Merrill Gardens. We’ve got all kinds of things planned for our communities around exercise, physical fitness and just plain fun. We’ll cover it all as we roll into our favorite time of year.

And to get us started, here’s a short video that shows you some of the ways we stay fit and healthy in our communities. Happy exercising!

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