SilverSneakers Helps Seniors Break a Sweat
Written and photography by Cheryl A. Fallstead
It’s no secret that staying active is essential to leading full, healthy lives as we age. Mary Swanson recognized this back in 1992 when she decided to help seniors attain their fitness and health goals. Inspired by her father’s determination to improve his health following a heart attack, she founded SilverSneakers, a nation-wide exercise program for active adults. Several Las Cruces gyms are offering the program and local seniors have latched on, making it a central part of their fitness plans.
Jumping back into a fitness program may sound daunting, particularly if you haven’t been especially active in the past few years. Joy Powell, chief operating officer of Network Solutions at Healthways, the company that operates SilverSneakers, says this program is designed to take the stress out of working out. “When you first arrive at a class, you should expect to feel welcomed and to have fun,” she notes. “SilverSneakers offers a comfortable environment where you can exercise with your peers. We encourage new members to simply do the best they can, introduce themselves to the other class members, and have fun.”
SilverSneakers is designed specifically for adults aged 65 and older and more than 12 million people are eligible for the SilverSneakers fitness benefit through the nation’s leading Medicare health plans, Medicare Supplement carriers, and group retiree plans. Participants receive membership to any participating gyms, which includes use of the facilities and regular classes, as well as any SilverSneakers classes. Locally, Curves, The Gym (formerly Tom Young), Primetime Fitness, Planet Fitness, and Fitness One all offer SilverSneakers memberships, with Fitness One offering special SilverSneakers classes.
So what sets a SilverSneakers class apart? Powell says, “Unlike other fitness classes, these classes are designed specifically for older Americans, accommodating all fitness levels of the growing and varied older adult demographic, including Baby Boomers. All are taught by credentialed instructors who can help guide members through exercises, helping adjust and tailor the classes to meet their physical abilities.”
Fitness One in Sonoma Ranch hosts SilverSneakers classes each weekday. Options include yoga, classic, and circuit, all with the option to use a chair to assist in balance. In the yoga class, for example, participants start out sitting in a chair, and then stand behind it and use it as a yoga prop. Caryl Ann Williams, who has been teaching SilverSneakers classes since 2010, routinely leads classes of more than 20. She moves through the room, helping participants with poses as necessary, encouraging them, and joking. Participants have varying levels of flexibility and fitness, but each is made to feel successful by the end of the class.
“There are a lot of positive outcomes—increased strength, balance, flexibility, and endurance,” Williams notes. “Plus there is a social aspect.” Class members have potlucks, go out to lunch together, and support each other through tough times. “Plus, they’re all lovely people,” she adds.
Judy Corr-Randall, 73, has been active in SilverSneakers classes for two years. “I think the stretching is a good idea,” she says. “If you trip, you might be more apt to catch yourself because your muscles and everything are in good shape. That’s your goal as you grow older: not to fall, not to break elbows, not to break hips and knees.”
Another enthusiastic exerciser, Rena Swilley, 81, says she could barely walk three blocks before she started working out. Now she averages three fitness classes each day, plus swims, and works out on her own. “I feel young,” she laughs when asked what all this exercise does for her. “I’m 81 and I can out walk many people my age.” Her advice for others just starting an exercise program: “Exercise will enhance your health and you will feel younger and stronger.”
Pauline Falcon, 78, says of the SilverSneakers yoga class, “It’s done wonders for me. I have bad knees, I’ve had back surgery, and a bad shoulder. It was to the point where I could hardly lift my left knee. Now I do very well. My balance is wonderful.”
“I personally have gotten so much out of this class: stronger core and balance, better posture, and increased flexibility,” adds LouAnn Paterra who has been attending the SilverSneakers yoga classes for several years. “It’s great mentally, too. It takes away stress and lets you concentrate on yourself if only for an hour. It works wonders at times.”
In addition to classes, Fitness One offers other opportunities for their SilverSneakers members. “We try to do quarterly socials for our SilverSneakers participants. Many of them are widowed. Many don’t have family in town, so we try to get them connected into relationships,” says fitness coordinator Jennifer Smith who estimates that they have over 1,000 SilverSneakers members, with about 500 that come in consistently.
Ready to get started? Smith recommends comfortable sweat or yoga pants or shorts, and a comfortable top, preferably made with a wicking fabric. Tennis shoes with good support and cushioning are important, too.
“The main goal of SilverSneakers is to keep seniors fit,” Smith explains. “It’s not necessarily about weight loss. It’s about being healthy, keeping up strength, and maintaining balance. It’s about helping seniors do the activities they want to do for a lifetime.”
For more information, visit silversneakers.com.