Jean-Michel Ricard created SIEL Bleu in Strasbourg, in 1997 to develop a range of activities for the elderly. These activities, designed to help improve their general physical and psychological well being also helped break the vicious downward spiral of isolation, dependency and failing health. It was important to him that results were obtained through the use of an integrated approach in the context of a preventive care program. Building on experience, Jean Michel gradually developed 25 types of physical activities adjustable to various levels of handicap, age and skill.For Jean-Michel, organized physical activity is not a goal per se. He sees it, rather, as a good tool for revealing and working on the social, physical, and psychological issues faced by seniors. Physical activity provides health benefits to people of all ages, and the elderly are no exception. Seniors who practice some form of physical activity usually face fewer complications while aging than those who do not. Regular physical activity is known to diminish the incidence of cardio vascular diseases, diabetes II, and certain cancers (e.g. colon). It also inhibits the development of a number of degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis.SIEL Bleu’s strengthening, stretching and balance exercises help seniors rediscover, and reconcile themselves with their bodies; they learn to gage their limits and their often-underestimated physical ability; they learn to rediscover their sense of balance (position in space, respiratory capacity, ability to get back on their feet after falling down, etc.) Furthermore, recent scientific research shows that age-related cognitive decline can be slowed, stopped or even reversed by regular exercise. Having to work their memory in exercise classes improves their sense of observation and their ability to concentrate. In turn this contributes to helping them become more alert and autonomous.By promoting practice in collective classes, SIEL Bleu encourages seniors to participate in social exchanges around a shared activity. Rediscovering the pleasure of social interaction is a powerful motivating force that can help once-passive seniors become active participants in the preservation of their own minds and bodies.In collaboration with outside medical and paramedical specialists, Jean-Michel and his professional staff have created programs geared to all sorts of different and specific needs such as soft gymnastics practiced on chairs, mobility and dexterity exercises to prevent falls and memory stimulation to slow down the process of cognitive degeneration.To easily reach larger numbers of people, he developed his model by focusing his attention on the elderly who were in institutions (day care centers, retirement homes, Alzheimer sections of hospitals). In 1998, SIEL Bleu was working in 12 such institutions. Currently it is active in 1,350 out of the total of 12,000 in France. Of the 38,000 people SIEL bleu treats yearly in its programs, 20,000 are cared for by institutions. The potential to continue to expand work with these institutional care givers is high, both because they generally are in need of help and because they are so numerous.Jean Michel believes strongly in the value of his holistic model to effect change and he is now putting more emphasis on extending the work SIEL Bleu can do with seniors still living in their homes or with relatives. These seniors are statistically the largest segment of the elderly population. They are his core target—the people who can benefit most from SIEL Bleu and who by remaining independent, can also benefit society most. SIEL Bleu currently helps 18,000 non-institutionalized adults in classes that range from accident and fall prevention to relaxation and self defense. The room for growth in helping the still independent is enormous.SIEL Bleu self finances 70 percent of its €4 million annual (2004) budget by selling its services to institutional care providers, and has a midterm objective to reach 100 percent by marketing specific products and enlarging its service range.Jean Michel is a persuasive advocate of his cause. Lobbying activities now take up the majority of his time. One indication of the sort of change he has fostered is that the medical profession has begun to prescribe SIEL Bleu sports activities to their elderly patients. In 2002, because of his efforts, the National Education Ministry set up a sport and physical training degree program—with a related diploma—geared specifically to the care of senior citizens.Building on his experience, Jean-Michel is trying to figure out ways to widen his existing models’ scope and accompany the elderly through their whole life cycle—from seniors in the work place to dependency in specialized care institutions. He is also thinking about the various ways he can extend the existing model and leverage its impact in France as well as in the rest of Europe.