Senior citizens throughout Hampton Roads can get in shape for free thanks to the Healthways Silver Sneakers fitness program.
Healthways pays for fitness center memberships for people ages 65 and older with an eligible Medicare or other health insurance plan. There are 13,000 locations nationwide that offer the program, including several recreation centers in Hampton Roads.
The first Silver Sneakers program in Virginia Beach, Virginia, began in 2006. Today, all of the city’s recreation centers have it.
“There are many programs and activities a Silver Sneakers member can participate in if they join the recreation center facilities,” says Tracey Gauthier, programming and operations manager for Virginia Beach’s Parks & Recreation department. “They can swim laps, participate in our Forever Young Center programs for older adults, or use the cardio and strength training equipment in the weight room. Or they can join any fitness classes that are offered.”
Ninety-two-year-old George Kays has been a Silver Sneakers participant for nearly a decade. He works out at the Great Neck Recreation Center in Virginia Beach at least twice a week.
“I had recently been widowed when I first heard about it,” he says. “I needed to get out and exercise. I hadn’t been doing anything for a while, and my poor body was getting desperate, so I decided to give it a try.”
Kays enjoys the program not only for the physical activity but also for the social aspect.
“I really enjoy it. I like the activity. It’s good for me. But I also like the people. Everyone is so friendly. I like the instructors. The instructors keep an eye on everyone and encourage everyone. Sometimes you need all the encouragement you can get. Silver Sneakers keeps me on the ball and keeps me moving.”
The program has been growing in popularity in James City County in part because of the county’s retired population. There are roughly 575 Silver Sneakers pass holders at the James City County Recreation Center. In March, the center began offering additional Silver Sneakers classes due to demand.
“With their membership, patrons have access to all our facility has to offer: the fitness center, track, racquetball court, pool and ten special Silver Sneakers classes per week for a range of fitness levels,” says Carla Brittle, recreation centers administrator for James City County. “The exercise benefits include reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, strength training for bones and muscles, improved balance to help prevent falls and improved mental health.”
Gail Peck, an instructor, helped implement Silver Sneakers at the James City County Recreation Center eight years ago. She has been teaching the classes ever since. Up to three dozen people join her afternoon classes, and she takes a personal interest in her class participants.
“The camaraderie here is huge,” Peck says. “Everyone looks out for everybody. I have everyone’s email address and check in with them. The motto for Silver Sneakers is ‘fitness, friends, and fun.’”
Olivia Sala has been involved with Silver Sneakers in James City County for four years and works out at the recreation center multiple times a week.
“I think it is a terrific program,” she says. “Gail is very inspiring. I like that there is variety. We do yoga, cardio, aerobics, weights and stretching. It’s fun and motivating. It’s a good way to workout, have fun, build up your strength and keep fit.”
Hampton recently added Silver Sneakers to three of its community centers: West Hampton, Northampton and the Senior Center.
“We have seen tremendous success for both our programs and our members,” says Elizabeth Linthicum, recreation manager for Hampton Parks & Recreation Department. “We have over 60 Silver Sneakers members.”
According to Linthicum, there are plans to offer a Silver Sneakers yoga course in the future and expand the program to include the Fort Monroe and North Phoebus Community Centers.
The goal in Hampton is “to help everyone of every age achieve their fitness goals,” Linthicum says.
For more information, visit silversneakers.com.