Turning 65, a friend once said, is like scoring a touchdown; anything after that is extra points. And the best way to stay in the game, to get the most out of it, is to follow the advice we’ve heard all our lives: Eat less (or at least healthier) and move more.
While some people have been active all their lives, many of us, especially women who came of age before Title IX — when not only were there few athletic opportunities but those who exhibited athleticism were often discouraged — have entered into the world of fitness sporadically. We take a few classes here or there, walk with friends, take out a gym membership that is infrequently used, or maybe get back on a bicycle for the first time in years. But we know we should be doing more, need to do more, to maximize our health and our years.
At 65, we are eligible to obtain health insurance through Medicare, and encouraged to buy a supplement or enter into a Medicare Advantage program. A bonus of doing so is a separate program called SilverSneakers, which allows members entry into a variety of Y’s, gyms and fitness clubs at no cost. In addition to using fitness equipment and taking classes, SilverSneakers facilities offer classes geared for seniors, where the camaraderie with classmates may be as beneficial as the workouts themselves. If you choose to do something that would normally generate an extra fee, such as hiring a personal trainer or getting a massage, you are required to pay that fee.
Eligibility for SilverSneakers is easy to check. Insurance companies send members a card and brochure announcing the program, you can check on the SilverSneakers website, silversneakers.com, or as often happens, you might hear about the program from a friend and check at the front desk of a facility in which you are interested. Your name and birth date are all you need to provide to check your status. Once eligibility is determined, you fill out a membership form and receive a swipe card.
You can take out memberships at more than one facility, and you can use any of the more than 13,000 SilverSneakers locations nationwide when you travel or visit family or friends. Locations may be found by entering the name or ZIP code of a town on the website. In this area, several will pop up within a five- or 10-mile radius of a given town.
There is also a Flex program that offers classes such as tai chi, yoga and boot camps with certified instructors in other locations, such as senior centers and libraries, but those are less available in Fairfield County, which has an abundance of other SilverSneakers locations. The YMCA on Route 7 in Wilton has participated in SilverSneakers since 2010 and has about 950 enrolled members, says membership director Michele Wishna, who adds, “Like our regular membership, some come every day and others only occasionally.” The Y offers two SilverSneakers fitness classes Monday through Friday, including two in the pool, as well as a senior swim option free to anyone 55 and over September through June.
Wishna notes that participating in SilverSneakers is beneficial to the Y, as “it gives community members the opportunity to get to know us and what we offer, and they can get a good workout, which is good for their health.” She adds that the socialization is also beneficial to participants and that many friendships have started in an exercise class.
Joe Mychalczuk, fitness director for Halo Studios in New Canaan, notes that Halo has participated in SilverSneakers since opening about three years ago and currently has about 75 members in the system. Halo offers a different SilverSneakers class Monday through Friday with certified instructor Suzanne Vinings. Mychalczuk concludes, “I encourage everyone who might be eligible to look into it; it is well known that physical activity is good for people, but studies have shown that older adults benefit the most from being active.”
And we know when we are feeling better, we tend to eat better … so let’s get moving!