By Andrea Brown, Herald Writer
Millions of seniors are striking gold with silver.
SilverSneakers, that is.
The wellness program incorporates anaerobic and aerobic exercises designed for seniors.
About 70 people start their Monday morning in a SilverSneakers cardio class at the Mill Creek YMCA. Music plays as bodies bend, twist and stretch.
“I like the vigorous, marching, slick-kicking when I’m up to snuff,” said Judy Hutchison, 74.
SilverSneakers is more than gym class for seniors.
“It connects them to other people. It gets them out of the house,” said instructor Terry Huffer, YMCA health and well-being coordinator. “We’ve had lots of very close friendships, a marriage and support groups.”
Some go out for coffee afterward. Others head to another class. Most show up several times a week, ready for gym-floor action.
Ethel Todd, 95, has been coming since SilverSneakers started at the Mill Creek YMCA in 1998.
“She used to come in the gym and do a mile lap before class,” Huffer said. “And a 5-minute squat.”
Todd came five days a week for years. Not long ago, she had to cut back, to four days.
Of course, not everyone can be an Ethel Todd. The exercise routines are as easy or hard as person wants to make them. Stand or sit. Shake it a little or a lot.
“If they say, ‘No, I can’t do it,’ I just say, ‘I’m just glad you are here,’ ” Huffer said.
SilverSneakers is offered at many sites in Snohomish County, including YMCAs, fitness studios and community centers. Founded by Healthways in 1992, it is a free benefit covered by most Medicare and health insurance plans.
Not only that, SilverSneakers members get an added bonus. “It allows them a full membership to participate and use the YMCA as a regular Y member,” Huffer said.
And vice versa: “If you are a Y member, you can attend any SilverSneakers classes,” she said. “I’ve had people in their 50s and people who are non-exercisers looking for a stepping stone.”
The senior athletes are sometimes joined by pregnant women seeking a low-impact workout.
The Mill Creek Y has four SilverSneakers classes: Cardio Classic, Cardio Circuit, Silver Splash and Yoga Stretch, seated or standing.
“Everything thinks in yoga they need to get down on the floor, but they don’t,” Huffer said. “I have so many people swear that it helps their back problems.”
Lori Skelton began coming to SilverSneakers in 1998 with her husband, who has since died.
“He was in a wheelchair the last year or so, but he came,” she said.
Dede Abramson came four years ago with a neighbor and kept coming.
“I like the whole routine,” she said.
For Betty LaValley, the fitness classes help her deal with widowhood.
“Friends have been a great support,” she said. “I’m here every day.”
SilverSneakers classes are a gateway to other senior programs. The Mill Creek YMCA, for example, has a busy calendar of excursions near and yonder.
“We’ve gone on cruises. We’ve gone to plays and casinos,” said Judy Meyer, who started a coffee group with her husband. “We’ve got a trip to Leavenworth coming up.”
Well, what are you waiting for? Grab your sneakers.
SilverSneakers Fitness Programs are free or available at a low cost.
The program is designed for older adults to increase their levels of physical activity and motivate them to continue to exercise.
SilverSneakers is offered at approximately 10,000 fitness and wellness centers in the United States such as a YMCAs, 24 Hour Fitness, Curves and Gold’s Gym. For more information, go to prod.silversneakers.com.