First of all, let me give you a little background. My father, who is in his mid-80s, was a member of my gym for about two years. At first, he agreed to hire a trainer to teach him about the weight machines as well as other exercises he could do. Despite those few sessions, he rarely approached the weight machines. He would go to the gym only if I went and would ride the stationary bicycle beside him. He never would go by himself to work out, even though there were other people around his age at the gym. He finally resigned from the gym last spring.
Spring forward to this fall when Dad found the SilverSneakers ® program. He’s been religious about going to the exercise classes twice a week. And nope, I don’t go with him.
So what exactly is the SilverSneakers ® program? The program was founded in 1992 in Arizona by Mary Swanson. She was inspired to start the program by her father who, after surviving a heart attack at the age of 51, decided to commit to regular physical activity in order to improve his quality of life. Through a company called HealthCare Dimensions, Mary focused on developing SilverSneakers ® as a cost-effective preventative benefit so it could be part of the care continuum. According to David Goodspeed of Healthways (which acquired SilverSneakers ® in 2006), "The concept was - and is - quite simple: healthier older adults who are members of these health plans would ultimately cost less, because they would take fewer medications and make less physician and hospital visits."
The program is available at a network of more than 11,000 participating fitness and wellness centers located in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. "The program offers physical activity, health education, and social events for Medicare-eligible and group retiree members, usually those ages 65 and older, but, in some cases, those of any age deemed disabled and receiving Medicare," Goodspeed said. "With the SilverSneakers ® premier network, members have a complimentary membership with access to a variety of participating locations throughout the country. Many sites offer amenities such as fitness equipment, treadmills and free weights, and the signature SilverSneakers ® Fitness Program classes, designed specifically for older adults and taught by certified instructors. Some locations include pools, saunas and even whirlpools. Fitness equipment and amenities vary by location, and SilverSneakers ® members receive everything included in a basic membership at a participating location. There are no limits to the days or times you can visit and members can take their SilverSneakers ® membership with them when they travel at any of our nationwide locations."
"It’s very easy to become a SilverSneakers ® member," Goodspeed said. "If an individual’s health plan offers the SilverSneaker ®s benefit, all they need to do is find a participating location (gym, YMCA, etc.) and walk through the door Health plan members and/or potential members can visit our website to see what health plans offer the SilverSneakers ® benefit and what participating locations are in their area. Once a member is enrolled at a participating location, they can choose to take the signature SilverSneakers ® classes that are offered or utilize all the amenities of the participating location"or both!"
There are four types of SilverSneakers group classes, which are offered based on a location’s schedule and facilities, and the availability of trained instructors. These courses, according to Goodspeed, include:
SilverSneakers ® - Muscular Strength & Range of Movement (MSROM), which is the most popular - and basic - SilverSneakers ® class. Participants have fun and move to the music through a variety of exercises designed to increase muscular strength, range of movement, and activity for daily living skills. Hand-held weights, elastic tubing with handles, and a ball are offered for resistance, and a chair is used for seated and/or standing support.
- SilverSneakers ® - Cardio Circuit class combines fun and fitness to increase the participant€™s cardiovascular and muscular endurance power with a standing circuit workout. Upper body strength work using hand-held weights, elastic tubing with handles, and a ball is alternated with non-impact aerobic choreography. A chair is offered for support, head to toe stretching, and complete relaxation in a comfortable position.
- SilverSneakers ® YogaStretch - This class moves a participant’s whole body through a complete series of seated and standing yoga poses. Chair support is offered to safely perform a variety of postures designed to increase flexibility, balance and range of movement. Restorative breathing exercises and a final relaxation will promote stress reduction and mental clarity.
- SilverSplash ® - This class offers lots of fun and shallow water moves to improve agility, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. No swimming ability is required, and a special SilverSneakers ® kickboard is used to develop strength, balance and coordination.
All SilverSneakers ® instructors are trained and certified by Healthways National Instructor Trainers. The instructors’ curriculum includes instruction and continuing education on working with older adults, evaluations, and continual feedback.
In addition, older adults who don’t have access to SilverSneakers participating locations can benefit from SilverSneakers ® Steps, a personalized fitness program that fits the lifestyle of members who may not have easy access to a SilverSneakers ® participating location. Members can register as a Steps participant on the SilverSneakers ® website and after registering, the member will receive a Steps kit that includes a pedometer for counting daily steps, resistance bands, an easy-to-follow exercise DVD and materials that help the member make the most of the program.
Obviously, the SilverSneakers ® program has made a difference by getting my dad to exercise regularly. I asked Dad why he’s going to this class when he wouldn’t go to the gym. "Because I really should. My natural tendency is to sit around," he said. "I don’t dislike it once I get there and start pumping. I started going and I know it’s beneficial." And that’s good news for our family!
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.