Remaining physically fit is important for everyone, but especially for seniors in their fight against Father Time. From age 65 on, staying in shape is a constant uphill battle.
The cost of a club membership and unfamiliarity with proper exercise routines is enough to keep people of any age away from the gym. But seniors with Medicare advantage and supplemental plans can get a break thanks to a program called Silver- Sneakers, which provides free memberships and classes.
The insurance companies— which want to see their elderly customers stay healthy— pick up the tab.
A free gym membership?
Turning 65 can’t be all bad.
The SilverSneakers program is available at six gyms in the Conejo Valley, including 24 Hour Fitness on Thousand Oaks Boulevard in T.O. and Revolution Fitness on Canwood Street in Agoura Hills.
The SilverSneakers program was started in 1992 by Mary Swanson through her Tempe, Ariz.-based company Healthcare Dimensions. Swanson thought of the idea after her father suffered a heart attack at age 51. As part of his recovery, he pledged to improve his quality of life with regular physical activity. His commitment to improving his health inspired his daughter to establish SilverSneakers.
Now the program is overseen by Tivity Health, a company that provides health and fitness programs across the country. SilverSneakers is available to more than 14.5 million people through over 60 health plans at more than 14,000 gyms.
If you’re on Medicare, you’re eligible.
Tracy Martins, owner of Revolution Fitness, said he decided to accept the program at his gym because of his father.
“My dad is a senior, and he’s the one who really built our gym, so I have a real ‘give back to the senior population’ mindset,” Martins said.
Martins was introduced to the program through his partner at Revolution, Vincent Kudelka.
A personal trainer, 26-yearold Kudelka is a member of the U.S. Marine Reserves. He learned about SilverSneakers last year when he was looking into Medicare options for physical health. He brought the program to the gym in November.
“It took me about 100 phone calls (to start it). It’s not just one phone call,” Kudelka said. “It’s Tivity, it’s SilverSneakers, Medicare, and then you have to set it up for your facility, and equipment people aren’t the same as the instructor-certified board. It’s all over the place.”
Kudelka said the program started slowly, with a small number of seniors attending the classes, but eventually it grew, and now each class is full. The classes can accommodate up to 40 people, but Kudelka prefers to give a personal touch when teaching, so he tries to limit class size to about 15.
“(Having bigger classes) makes me uncomfortable,” Kudelka said. “If it gets really full I tell them it’s good they split the days, because it’s better if I can see everyone. Something’s going to happen if there’s 40 people in a room that fits 40 people.”
The standard SilverSneakers program gets participants a membership to the gym and a single class that covers basic movement.
“I’ve told (the seniors) if they want to come in at 8 a.m. they’re more than welcome to,” Martins said.
“They can come to spinning class. We have three SilverSneakers classes and two yoga classes specifically designed for seniors. They come when there’s a community amongst themselves. They feel at home. They can talk to other members.”
Kudelka said that in addition to the classes, he’ll take Silver- Sneakers members onto the gym floor and teach them how to train with free weights and exercise equipment. He’s even taken them into the streets around Revolution Fitness and marched them in military formation.
“The community is tightly knit. They come here, like, religiously. . . . They’ll do a yoga class after (the SilverSneakers class) and they’re just all about it,” Kudelka said.
“They stay and ask 1,001 questions, which is great. All of them have something they’re worried about, but I steer them away from their fears of debilitating injury. They’re all happy. They do their thing and they’re comfortable,” he said.
. . . And healthy.