Story and Photo By Stephanie Kalina-Metzger
Your health is your wealth. This old adage is new again as seniors seek out options to retain their mobility as they age. The SilverSneakers program enables elders to take advantage of fitness classes and state-of-the-art equipment at Five Bridges Health and Fitness at the Oakhurst Shopping Center near Linglestown, all free of charge. Personal trainers are thrilled that older people are shunning rocking chairs and other trappings of old age. “We are urging seniors to dispel those preconceived notions that gyms are only for the younger set,” said SilverSneakers National Trainer Julie Logue.
The History of SilverSneakers
According to Logue, the SilverSneakers program was founded by Mary Swanson, whose father served as an inspiration for the nationally recognized fitness program. “After Mary’s father survived a heart attack at age 51, he vowed to improve his health and quality of life with regular physical activity,” said Logue, who goes on to say that Mary recognized the need for a formalized exercise class designed specifically for older adults and, in 1992, the first class launched in Arizona.
Logue said that many seniors are eligible for the program. “If they are 65 or older and a member of a participating Medicare Advantage Plan, they qualify,” said Logue, adding that more than 18 million Americans have access to the flexible program. “Eligible members can work out at a variety of fitness locations nationwide, or through virtual offerings, so if they’re traveling, or prefer activities at more than one location, they have options,” she said.
It Does a Body Good
It’s been said that motion is lotion for the body and becomes particularly important as we age, according to Jan Capen, trainer at Five Bridges Health and Fitness. Capen has been training at Five Bridges Health and Fitness for a total of 10 years now. The 70-year-old, who appears younger than her years, said that it helps her stay in shape as she assists others. One can also speculate that her age helps her relate to the issues that the elderly face, which is most certainly a plus when it comes to attracting seniors who might otherwise be intimidated by a younger person. “We have a huge senior population at Five Bridges, ranging from age 65-95,” said Capen.
Those who are interested are invited to visit Five Bridges Health and Fitness to learn more about what is included in the SilverSneakers program. “We’ll let them know what their plan includes and assist them in choosing equipment and classes that are right for them,” said Capen, adding that classes are intended to help the older folks do the things they do in their everyday lives. “We mimic activities in class, like getting in and out of a chair, picking up grandchildren, preventing falls, working on mobility and flexibility, and working on coordination, to name just a few,” she said.
Jesse Swoyer is another trainer who is a big proponent of SilverSneakers. Swoyer works with executives, the disabled, and the aging population in their homes. Swoyer also teaches a community class at Highmark Direct Care Stores in Harrisburg, along with virtual classes through SilverSneakers. He says they’ve been popular, and Logue agrees. “Seniors have adapted to virtual solutions more readily than some may have expected and in a recent member survey, we found that many participants in our virtual program—about 35 percent—are engaging with SilverSneakers for the first time,” said Logue. What Swoyer likes about SilverSneakers is that the program costs nothing to individuals wanting to dip their toe in the water when it comes to an exercise routine. “It gives older folks a broad array of options, community classes and gyms and allows them to tailor what they think is best for their individual needs,” said Swoyer.
Kate Quimby is just one example of a 75-year-old who feels 20 years younger, thanks, in part, to SilverSneakers. What Quimby likes about the SilverSneakers program is that many classes are free; getting to meet Capen was an extra added benefit. “I have scoliosis and neuropathy in my feet, which makes life challenging,” said Quimby, adding that she decided to pay extra to work with Capen three times a week, one on one. “She critiques my form and if I have aches and pains, she knows how to fix them. She’s not very big, but she’s worth her weight in gold,” said Quimby who mentioned the expense to her daughter, stating that she might be able to afford some pretty nice trips if she quit training. Quimby’s daughter responded by saying, “Mom, if you quit training, you wouldn’t be able to travel at all.” Quimby couldn’t help but concur and credits Capen for the help and motivation she’s received over the past seven years. “I use machines, weights, ropes and pulleys—so many different things that it’s never dull and boring,” Quimby said.
And it’s not all sweat and exertion—there’s a socialization aspect to the program as well. Five Bridges encourages socialization through trips, luncheons, walks and community projects. Logue asserts that adopting a healthy lifestyle, both mentally and physically before and while ageing, is vitally important to longevity. Capen concurs. “We establish personal relationships and can provide a lifeline for seniors’ emotional and mental health, as well as their physical health,” said Capen, adding that part of her job is to keep in contact with the members. “That’s really important as we age too,” said Capen.
For Quimby, the journey has been well worth it. “I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I now view it as an investment in myself,” she said with a smile.