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WV seniors stay fit with SilverSneakers

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Health advocates say fitness can fit in to anyone's schedule, and avid Healthways SilverSneakers Fitness Program participants are proof positive.

SilverSneakers was founded in 1992, the fitness network was established in 1997 and the network celebrated the 10,000 location mark in 2010.

Classes vary in format and intensity, lasting about 45 minutes to an hour with a focus on the unique needs of older adults.

SilverSneakers classes can include yoga, swimming and muscular strength along with chairs, hand-held weights, elastic tubing with handles and even a kickboard.

Mary Louise King is a SilverSneakers instructor in the Kanawha Valley, at both Active Sports Complex in St. Albans and the Charleston Family YMCA in Charleston.

She said her classes are taught either sitting or standing beside a chair for support, and even older adults with canes, walkers and wheelchairs can participate.

She said classes become a family that roots for one another's progress.

"What has been thrilling to us as a class, as well as to me, personally, is to see older adults come into class in poor physical condition and make friends, have fun and eventually improve their fitness," King said. "Try to imagine how thrilling it is to all of us to see a person who used a cane get stronger and become able to stand beside a chair, holding on for support, and lift a leg off the floor.

"It isn't just me who notices the progress. The whole class knows it is their privilege to encourage each other."

King said her students notice when someone hasn't been coming to class for a while and pass around cards for everyone to sign and mail to the missing member.

She has several tips for getting regular exercise at any age.

"The best way to ease into exercise is to make it a routine, like brushing your teeth," King said. "The goal for maintaining health is five days of moderate exercise for 30 minutes or 150 minutes per week."

She said the socializing that takes place before, during or after her classes can also help keep people coming.

"Once they start moving, it is easy to keep moving, becoming connected to others as well as engaged in life," she said. "Some people have no trouble being happy during the winter months, and they know instinctively that they can help another person who is struggling."

King said her job is rewarding because she sees so many transformations.

"We are all in it together," she said. "I am 58 years old, a baby boomer myself, and I show all my new or prospective students my triceps muscles I've developed while teaching SilverSneakers classes.

"I tell my students just to lift the weight that they can manage."

King said her classes have helped her to fight the pull of gravity that comes along with aging, and she only lifts five pound weights as her maximum.

Tammy Calvert, senior fitness account manager for the SilverSneakers fitness program, said each new member receives an orientation and each facility that offers SilverSneakers has a program adviser who supports the program and can answer any questions.

Calvert said anyone with mobility issues could perform moderate amounts of low-impact activities, such as swimming or stretching and gentle forms of yoga or tai chi. Those exercises can help promote flexibility as well as improve balance and increase strength.

But some SilverSneakers lessons extend beyond age brackets.

"At SilverSneakers, we emphasize ‘fitness, fun and friends,'" Calvert said. "The reason we put such a focus on friendship and having fun while we exercise is simple: It's easy to quit a gym membership, but you would never quit a friendship."

King said she encourages her students to get their heads into their exercises, because the vision of fitness has to start with the mind.

"Once older adults can visualize themselves as being a vital part of society for their wisdom and gentleness and kindness and encouragement to and for others, then they really want to exercise and make changes to live healthy," King said. "We have a whole new year ahead of us, and it's going to be our best year. See it and feel it, then live it."

For details about the SilverSneakers program nationwide, visit silversneakers.com