Cover Stories

Silver Mettle

cover-3The SilverSneakers program is crusading for fitness by making it free

Soon after signing up for my 2015 Medicare health plan with Humana Healthways FIT, I was surprised to receive a fitness club membership in the mail—included at no cost, as a benefit from the insurance company. Though I’d never heard of SilverSneakers, this “active adult wellness program” is included in more than 65 Medicare health plans, offering seniors free access to some 13,000 gyms and community programs across the country.

The idea that such an offer could inspire older adults to up their fitness game certainly worked on me. Previously, the only form of exercise that had interested me was dance. But by joining a fitness center, I knew I could achieve better balance and endurance, to further strengthen my core muscles for movements in Zumba and ballroom dance.

Included with my card was a list of centers in Santa Cruz offering the SilverSneakers benefit, and I signed up at the closest facility, Capitola Fitness on Bay Avenue. Nine classes a week are offered between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., so I jumped right in with SilverSneakers Classic, where I saw friends and neighbors. Taught by Charles Paulden, sessions involve the use of hand-held weights, elastic tubing with handles and an exercise ball. A chair is used for support.

The most successful exercise programs are the ones their participants most enjoy, and for me that means those that include music. Moving to classics like “Oh Yes, It’s Ladies’ Night,” “Mony Mony,” and “Dancing in the Streets” makes this session a lot of fun. Paulden is also certified in circuit training and the advanced fitness program BOOM, as well as massage, holistic health, integrative yoga therapy and hypnotherapy. To ward off Humor Deficit Disorder, he slips in a few jokes during our session.

I also decided to try chair yoga classes, taught by two instructors on different days. My body doesn’t react well to floor exercises, but I have always respected the spiritual aspect of yoga. Both Suzi Mahler and Jasmin Jinn include peaceful Zen music with a gentle form of yoga that is performed sitting on a chair or standing, demonstrating yoga postures coupled with breathing and relaxation techniques. Mahler, CMT, NE, has practiced several styles of yoga for many years and Jinn has received TriYoga certifications up to Level 3. A focus on breathing is what I need most, and these are the instructors who can educate me.

Eligibility for SilverSneakers depends on the provider and the state, and many seniors aren’t aware that they are one of the 12 million people eligible for the program. Regina Holmes of Aptos, for example, signed up for Medicare, choosing AARP United Healthcare as her supplemental coverage, but only later learned through friends about the free membership.

Capitola Fitness owner Mike Bodge has committed to making his facility available for older adults, and as an end result, reducing overall healthcare costs. The use of exercise equipment, pool, steam/sauna and whirlpool is provided. Other locations in Santa Cruz welcoming SilverSneakers members include Cabrillo Fitness Club, 24 Hour Fitness-Santa Cruz Sport and Curves in Aptos.

Among the other benefits I have discovered since jumping into SilverSneakers are the uplifting messages shared in class. In yoga, the language of Sanskrit is spoken, and at the end we dedicate our positive energy to a special person, or to all who need it. At the close of Paulden’s class, he inspires us with these words: “Imagine being in a perfect body, in a universe of bliss where you can do anything you wish. Just relax and enjoy a greater sense of well-being, looking forward to the day ahead with a greater sense of enthusiasm.”

For more information on the program, go to

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