Seniors in shape
SilverSneakers provides golden agers the opportunity to stay active

It's been 10 years since Carolyn West retired from her career as a systems programmer with the state, and aside from an occasional game of bowling, she hasn't exercised much. At 65, West lacked energy, but two months ago she decided to change her ways.

West signed up for the SilverSneakers Fitness Program at Gold's Gym in Conyers. Twice a week, for 45 minutes at a time, from a seated position she lifts weights, does leg lifts and performs resistance exercises. She also works on her balance through various standing positions.

So far, it's working.

"I was sluggish," West said. "It started giving me strength in my legs and arms and I joined a walking group at the senior center. ... You wouldn't believe how much better I feel. When I walk now, my pants don't go 'shush,' 'shush' and it's also helped my breathing. I feel better. I feel younger. I'm going to keep going and going until they tell me I can't."

Provided by the Healthways company, which contracts with health insurance companies, SilverSneakers is designed to improve the physical health of people age 65 and over through exercise. It offers free memberships to health clubs, for those who qualify through Medicare supplements, and customized fitness classes.

Available at 10,000 locations nationwide, full-service SilverSneakers programs are offered locally at Gold's Gym in Rockdale County and the Covington Athletic Club and Fitness Center in Newton County. Curves is also a participant in the program, offering access to the club but no classes.

"It was a way to tap into an area in the community of fitness that needs a lot of this," said Kristy Cunningham, owner of Gold's Gym, which began participation in SilverSneakers in January.

"The average age is 70 and you're talking about a group that has not necessarily exercised under that true terminology but they've worked physically their whole life," she said. "Now, all of sudden they are sedentary. It's a way to get them up and stay active."

SilverSneakers offers a variety of classes including a muscle strength component, a cardiovascular unit, a yoga stretch and a Silver Splash water aerobics offering.

The core class is muscle strength and range of movement sessions. Participants sit in a chair and work with resistance bands, small hand weights and small exercise balls. It's designed to improve muscle strength, balance, flexibility, coordination and dexterity.

"With these classes, we're not trying to turn people into bodybuilders but trying to concentrate on activities of daily living. For example, picking up their grandchildren, or looking out the back window of a car, or putting on a seat belt or putting things in the cabinet," said Brandon King, SilverSneakers field manager for northeast Georgia.

Added Cunningham, "It's a way to get them up and stay active with movements of everyday life like reaching for a shelf, or opening a jar, things that as you become older can be more difficult. These are the type of things we do so you can stay independent as long as you can."

Current local offerings include muscle strength and range of movement classes at Gold's Gym and Covington Athletic Club. Covington Athletic Club also provides SilverSneakers cardio-circuit and water aerobics and is currently enrolling for a more intense cardio workout called cardio-fit to begin in June.

Covington Athletic Club and Fitness Center Manager Sue Shoemaker said her health club has offered SilverSneakers for five years and that the program is a win-win for both the business and the SilverSneakers participants.

"That's what I like about it, seeing these people come in that would never step in the club without the SilverSneakers insurance benefit," Shoemaker said. "It's been wonderful for us and the folks, too."

Those interested in signing up for the SilverSneakers program should visit or call a participating health club to set up an

appointment. For more information, visit www.silversneakers.com.

E-mail Karen J. Rohr at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.