Seniors put on their Silver Sneakers to get active

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When it comes to the stereotype that after a certain age individuals should just sit in a rocking chair on the porch and watch the days go by, the Silver Sneakers senior exercise program continues to disprove that theory.

For approximately 18 years, Silver Sneakers has been giving adults over the age of 60 the opportunity to get active, maintain a healthy lifestyle and meet new people. The program started in 1992 by a woman in Arizona, who saw a need for a health class tailored to seniors and by 2000 it had taken off in different cities across the country. The program can be found in 49 states, along with D.C. and Puerto Rico.

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HANDS UP— Members of the Kingsley Center Silver Sneakers stretch during their workout. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

David Goodspeed of Healthways, the company that owns Silver Sneakers, said there are many benefits to this program, but the main one is that it gives the older population an opportunity to become more active. Also by placing it in several locations where they might not have gone before, such as fitness centers.

He also said it has been proven that Silver Sneakers participants tend to have lower health care costs and less visits to the emergency room, which is why many insurance companies are offering the program.

According to Goodspeed there are approximately 160 locations in the surrounding region that carry the program, including several Curves fitness centers. Some of the local locations are the Hill House Association, the Lemington Community Senior Center, the Kingsley Association Community Center and several YMCAs.

There are more 94,000 health plan participants in the Allegheny County eligible for the program and more than 9,000 are active participants of it.

The Silver Sneakers program offers a Muscular Strength & Range of Movement class that allows seniors to have fun and move to music through various exercises that increase strength, movement and activity for daily living; a Cardio Circuit class that uses hand-held weights, elastic tubing and a ball to increase cardiovascular endurance; a YogaStretch class to increase flexibility, balance and range of movement; and SilverSplash, a water class used to improve flexibility, endurances, coordination and agility. Many of the locations offer several classes a week.

Darnell Hudley, senior center coordinator at the Hill House, said the classes are for seniors looking to get out and exercise, get motivated and keep themselves productive so that they do not lose the strength they already have.

“I think this class is important because it really keeps them self-sustaining, active and in shape,” said Sylvester Hanner, a Silver Sneakers instructor and senior adviser at King­s­ley. “It’s a good workout class and has a social side. A lot of the (enrollees) attend regularly and look out for each other. They are like a family.”

Hanner, who has been teaching the class since last December, said on a normal day there is a minimum of 15 seniors, most are African-American women. The Kingsley has been offering the program since 2005 and holds seven classes a week.

Like the Kingsley, Lemington Senior Center has seen a good response from the class. Instructor Elinor Montgomery said there are approximately 15-17 individuals who also attend regularly.

“Right now there is a 92-year-old woman who was in my class, she had pneumonia and was in the intensive care unit, she was lifting her legs and able to move herself in the bed and the staff was surprised she was doing all this, and it was because of what she was doing in the Silver Sneakers program,” said Montgomery.

”I know it has done good things for me. All of my working life I said I was going to go exercise and I didn’t. I wasn’t an exercise person,” said Shelia Johnson, a Silver Sneaker participant at the Kingsley Center. “After I retired, I joined the Kingsley Center and the Silver Sneakers program and I am having the best old time. I didn’t know exercise could be so fun.”

Johnson, who has been in the program for two years, has several medical conditions and said since she joined the program her numbers have been manageable. “This class is just strenuous enough without hurting the old bones.” She said she’s tried other programs, but this was the best fit.

Like Hanner, Johnson said the class is like a family. “It is to the point where we have to tell each other when we will not be there.”

The program is available to seniors through most insurance providers or by becoming a member of the facility where it is being offered.

“I can see why insurances offer it, but I do think it should be available to all,” Johnson said.

The Silver Sneakers program just shows that age is just a number and one is never too old to get fit and stay active.

“Life is a gift and so is age. If you take care of this body there is nothing you cannot do,“ Johnson said.

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