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CindySays: Fitness program geared for older adults

By Cindy Boggs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dear Cindy,

My insurance company has a benefit called SilverSneakers, and I know it's about exercise. I am 68 and I'm in pretty good shape for an old bird. I usually walk, but right now have a minor foot problem and haven't been able to get my walks in. I wouldn't mind going to a gym, though I have never done that. I'm not sure I could always get to a class because I still work part time and my schedule changes each week, but I would like to know what the class is like. Thanks for any information you can send me. -- Betty

Dear Betty,

You're right, SilverSneakers Fitness Program is about exercise. In fact, it's the leading fitness program in the nation for older adults and is offered by leading Medicare health plans and Medicare supplement carriers throughout the country. Certain insurance providers have SilverSneakers as a member benefit, which means they are given a free fitness facility membership. This is a great perk when you consider how positively physical activity will impact your health. You can find SilverSneakers in more than 9,500 facilities such as YMCAs, YWCAs, senior centers, private fitness clubs and churches.

SilverSneakers has five types of classes ranging from 45 to 60 minutes long. Each are set to appropriate music with specific beats per minute, and all begin with a rhythmic warm-up and end with a relaxing stretch. Here are descriptions of each:

Muscle strength and range of movement

This universal class is designed to improve muscular strength, joint range of movement, agility, coordination and balance. Regular participation in this type of class will make everyday activities easier. Each class goes through a series of exercises using hand-held weights, elastic tubing with handles and a small, lightweight ball. Participants work from both a seated and standing position depending on ability.

Cardio circuit

A muscular endurance class combined with some nonimpact aerobic exercise performed in a circuit-based format. Participants are standing while using the tools described in the muscular strength and range of movement class to strengthen their upper body and alternate with nonimpact aerobic choreography. A chair is offered for support, stretching and relaxation exercises.

CardioFit

This becomes a little more intense and is heart-healthy and gentle on the joints. The workout is made up of simple low-impact movements blended with strength, abdominal conditioning, stretching and relaxation exercise. This workout will strengthen your body and increase your energy level.

YogaStretch

If you've ever wanted to take a yoga class but thought it would be too challenging, this is the perfect option for you. YogaStretch goes through the entire series of seated and standing yoga poses, but includes a chair for support whenever needed. It will increase flexibility, balance and range of movement. Best of all, the restorative breathing exercises and relaxation phase will promote stress reduction and mental clarity.

SilverSplash

No swimming is required for SilverSplash, a shallow-water class that will improve your agility, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. Special SilverSneakers kickboards are used to develop strength, balance and coordination. Because your body weight is supported by the water, this is the perfect place to exercise if you've recently undergone joint replacement or have joint pain.

Drop in

The beauty of these programs is that you can take them without obligation as your schedule and energy level permits. If classes don't fit your lifestyle, there are a multitude of other physical activities available within the fitness center. This type of specific and dedicated programming is being lauded for the positive effect it is having on the physical, emotional and social health of older adults. It is never too late to start pursuing health.

One final thought

Obviously, the fact that West Virginia is burdened by a massive amount of chronic disease, it's a wise decision for these insurance companies to invest dollars on the prevention side of chronic disease, which will in turn lower the cost on the treatment side.

No matter what type you choose, we know that regular exercise goes a long way toward lowering disease risk, boosting immunity and managing weight. We also know that for many older adults living on fixed incomes, gym memberships may be cost-prohibitive. Receiving a fitness membership removes this financial barrier and connects these older adults to a wide array of physical and social options. Nonprofits such as YMCAs offer community assistance and set fees on a sliding scale based on income.

Cindy Boggs, fitness presenter, author and Activate America director, has been an ACE-certified instructor/trainer since 1989. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to her at YMCA of Kanawha Valley, 100 YMCA Drive, Charleston, WV 25311, or e-mail cindysays@aol.com. Look for Cindy's award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World," at www.cindysays.com, or contact the YMCA at 304-340-3527.


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