We at Healthy Old Fatties believe that health should be a life long pursuit. Anyone with a body should do what they can through diet and exercise to maintain the best quality of life possible. Unfortunately, so many fitness programs are targeted towards the young that older people seeking ways to maintain fitness often feel excluded. Enter SilverSneakers® a program designed exclusively for older adults, allowing them easy access to resources nationwide. We interviewed David Goodspeed, Mgr., Public Relations of SilverSneakers® to learn more about it!
Q. Explain to our readers what Healthways’ SilverSneakers® Fitness Program is.
Healthways’ SilverSneakers® Fitness program is the nation’s leading exercise program designed exclusively for older adults. The program is available in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, throughout a network more than 10,000 participating fitness and wellness centers, YMCAs and Curves® locations. The program offers physical activity, health education, and social events for Medicare-eligible and Group Retiree members, usually those ages 65 or older, but, in some cases, those of any age deemed disabled and receiving Medicare. With the SilverSneakers premier network, eligible members have 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 eligible members can participate at any of our nationwide locations when they travel.
Q. How did this program begin?
The SilverSneakers Fitness Program was started in the state of Arizona in 1992 by a woman named Mary Swanson and her company, HealthCare Dimensions. Mary founded SilverSneakers on the premise that for health care to be viable in the long run, cost-effective preventive benefits needed to be incorporated into the care continuum. With her unique business model of an accountable, population-based exercise program, she quickly carved a niche between managed care and insurance companies throughout the United States and realized her vision of improving the health and well-being of everyone the program touches. Mary’s inspiration was drawn from her own father who, after surviving a heart attack at age 51, pledged to improve his quality of life with regular physical activity. His commitment, coupled with her determination to see him succeed, laid the foundation for the exercise program that would become the nation’s leading exercise program for older adults.
SilverSneakers is a unique exercise, physical activity, and social oriented program designed to encourage Medicare-eligible members – often burdened by multiple chronic conditions – to increase their levels of physical activity and motivate them to continue to be active. The concept was – and is – quite simple: Healthier older adults who were members of these health plans would ultimately cost less, because they would take fewer medications and make fewer physician and hospital visits. In December 2006, SilverSneakers was acquired by industry leader Healthways (www.healthways.com), which now includes the award-winning program in its suite of wellness offerings.
Q. How does one become a member of SilverSneakers?
It’s very easy to become a member. If your health plan offers the SilverSneakers benefit, all you need to do is find a participating location (gym, YMCA, etc.) and walk through the door with your health plan ID card! Health plan members and/or potential members can visit www.silversneakers.com to see what health plans offer the SilverSneakers benefit and what participating locations are in their area. Once members are enrolled at a participating location, they can choose to take the signature SilverSneakers classes that are offered, utilize other amenities of the participating location or both!
Q. As a member, what benefits does one receive upon membership?
After a person decides which location to join, all he or she needs to do is walk into the location, show his or her health plan ID and complete simple enrollment forms to become a member. In a class setting, members work on exercises that improve muscle strength and range of movement. Some locations also offer yoga classes, cardio classes and even aquatic exercise classes (see class descriptions below).
Members who do not take the signature SilverSneakers classes can still enjoy all the amenities of the fitness or wellness center, including cardio equipment, weights, etc.
Q. Many senior citizens are uncomfortable with the equipment or regiments of standard gyms and exercise classes. What measures has the SilverSneakers program taken to help acclimate seniors to gym and health club environments?
Healthways’ SilverSneakers Fitness Program prides itself on “breaking down the barriers” of walking into a fitness center or gym for the first time. For more than half its members, SilverSneakers is their first experience in this setting. Participating locations in the SilverSneakers network have a staff member at their location designated to show members around and assist them along the way. This person is called the SilverSneakers “Program Advisor.” An interested member can always bring a friend along too.
Q. Is this program customizable to all fitness levels (ex. could people with limited mobility or other health conditions still participate)?
SilverSneakers instructors are certified and trained to properly teach older adults at all levels of physical ability. They will not push participants to perform any exercises or moves they are not comfortable doing.
Q. Could you tell us a little about the SilverSneakers Steps program?
SilverSneakers® Steps is 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 ( www.silversneakers.com) 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.
Q. SilverSneakers offers different classes at various locations. How are these classes customized to fit the needs of the senior population?
SilverSneakers® – Muscular Strength & Range of Movement (MSROM) 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.
Members can “Get Up & Go” with an aerobics class that is safe, heart-healthy and gentle on the joints. The workout includes easy-to-follow low-impact movement, and upper-body strength, abdominal conditioning, stretching and relaxation exercises designed to energize their active lifestyle.
SilverSneakers® YogaStretch 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® 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.
Members should check with their participating locations to see which SilverSneakers classes are offered.
Q. The SilverSneakers website appears to have a wealth of information for seniors looking to better their health. What are some things the website offers to get seniors on the right track?
As noted earlier, the SilverSneakers website (www.silversneakers.com) is the one-stop shop where a member (or potential member) can find out information about health plans that offer the unique benefit, and find a participating location closest to the individual’s home. The website is the perfect place for an interested individual to find out more about the program, whether their health plan offers the great benefit and how they can go about getting started with the program. SilverSneakers members can also participate in a secure online community where they can develop action plans and track their activities; request advice from experts in fitness, nutrition and managing stress; participate in discussion groups; find informative health articles and recipes; and much more.
Q. What are some of the major benefits maintaining an active lifestyle offers seniors?
The SilverSneakers class focuses on balance, flexibility, muscle strength, stamina, cardiovascular health and posture. The classes can even help with a member’s mental health and confidence.
Additionally, published studies have found individuals who participate in SilverSneakers have lower health claims costs and require fewer admissions to the hospital. Research has demonstrated SilverSneakers improves the health and well-being of participants through its unique combination of exercise and social support. A 2008 study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found SilverSneakers provided tangible health benefits for high-risk members. Members with diabetes who were active in SilverSneakers were admitted to the hospital less often, had lower inpatient care costs and had significant reduction in overall health care costs after only a year of participation.
Q. Any success stories you’d like to share with our readers?
SilverSneakers success stories are what keep the program so popular and so effective. Many SilverSneakers members have been featured in newspaper articles, local television news reports and health plan member newsletters … all sharing their wonderful stories about how the program made an impact in their lives.
We’ve had stories of Louisiana SilverSneakers members who were forced to move after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, only to have SilverSneakers classes in other states help them recover, make new friends and lift them from the depression of that horrific event. We’ve had stories of widowers who have met at SilverSneakers classes, only to fall in love and get married! We’ve had members of all ages (some past 100 years of age!) tell us how they’ve stopped taking certain medications, or have thrown away their cane or wheelchair, because of their participation in the program. Here’s just a sampling of actual SilverSneakers testimonials.
“I don’t know what I would have done without SilverSneakers. At 81, I want to keep doing and going as much as possible, and these classes are really helping.”
“The program has made a significant change in my well-being. It’s been just what the doctor ordered.”
“In the time I have been in the program, I have been allowed to stop taking cholesterol medicine and have cut my blood pressure meds in half.”
“SilverSneakers gave me added strength to advance to additional weight training and yoga classes, which gives me GREAT overall toning and flexibility. I am inspired to continue the SilverSneakers Fitness Program as my springboard to even better health and more fun with friends. All these exciting perks are now paid for by my insurance plan!”
“Several months ago, (my mother) was invited by her health insurance group to join a SilverSneakers exercise program at a nearby gym. She now attends class (three days a week) after she walks her three miles! I am extremely proud of Mom and aspire to be like her when I get to be 85 years old!”
“My exercise routine has definitely helped me to control my weight and my stress. And I’ve made so many friends here!”
“I never would have thought that 26 years after my initial stroke, I would be back in therapy. I had given up and thought the doctors had too. Words cannot express the gratitude and loyalty I feel toward SilverSneakers for all they have been able to help me achieve.”