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What is SilverSneakers?
As you approached 65, you may have heard about SilverSneakers. You may have had older friends or even parents participate in the program. Somewhere along the way, you were told it was a potential benefit of Medicare.
Now that you are 65 or older, you might wonder if you are missing out on a benefit you could have.
In this article, we are going to give you the basics of the program, the benefits, and how you can be eligible. In fact, you might be eligible right now, and you aren’t taking advantage of it.
Everything you need to know about Silversneakers
History of the Program
The SilverSneakers Fitness program was founded in 1992 by Mary Swanson. Mary was inspired by her own family. Her father had survived a heart attack at age 51. After his recovery, he vowed to improve his life with physical activity. He joined a gym and followed a plan designed for strength, flexibility, and cardio fitness. Mary helped her father stick with his commitment, and it was that help plus his enthusiasm that laid the foundation for the SilverSneakers program.
She began amassing a network of gyms, fitness centers, and other healthcare outlets to provide anyone over the age of 65 access to exercise and quality of life programs.
Eventually, many Medicare supplement products begin offering this network as a benefit to their customers. They realized that helping improve the health of their customers would ultimately lower health costs for everyone while greatly improving the quality of life for seniors.
Since it’s inception in 1992, SilverSneakers grew into a nationwide network with more than 15,000 participating fitness and wellness centers (including many YMCAs) and serves more than 13 million eligible members.
Program Basics and Details
The basic mission of SilverSneakers is to increase health, mobility and overall quality of life for adults over 65.
This includes gym access, fitness program, and even social activity.
Membership into SilverSneakers provides all these benefits:
- Free: We may have forgotten to mention this. The basic program is no cost to qualifying individuals.
- Gym Equipment: Access to fully functional gyms with exercise equipment including weight machines, free weights, cardio equipment, tracks, and even pools.
- Health Classes: Most geographic areas will have classes such as SilverSplash, Cardio Circuit, SilverSneakers YogaStretch, Weight circuit, and CardioFit. Classes are designed for every fitness goal. Many classes are designed to help seniors with physical limitations and health challenges.
- Mobile App: SilverSneakers created Go, a smartphone app designed to help you discover, plan and track your workouts.
- On Demand Exercise Videos: Training videos that provide workouts and instruction you can access 24/7 and use at home.
- Social Activities: SilverSneakers sponsors activities and social events in many communities.
- Progress Tracking: Participants have access to HealthwaysFIT.com. This is an online resource for members to monitor fitness progression, track health-related current events, and even obtain nutritious recipes.
- Easy Access: Convenience is an important part of the program, so anyone over 65 will have easy availability to the network. With over 15,000 participating locations it should be easy to find something close, so there are no excuses not to participate.
- Education Resources: Motivation and instruction are the keys to successful fitness programs. SilverSneakers accomplishes this through their website, blog, newsletter, and various social media activity.
- Program Advisors: Certified trainers and instructors and can help you reach any health goals you have and keep you accountable in the process.
If it has been years since you have stepped inside a gym, it can be intimidating. SilverSneakers removes that barrier by providing a specific program for people in your age group. Introductory classes designed to comfortably introduced you to equipment and fitness classes are available. In fact, you don’t even have to step inside a gym to take advantage of the program. Within the SilverSneakers program is the FLEX network. FLEX is a collection of exercise classes provided by churches, recreation centers, and senior communities.
You are not limited by location either. You can participate in any facility that is part of the SilverSneakers network. If there are two fitness centers within range of your house, you can use the pool at one and the weight machines at another. There is no restriction.
Silver Sneakers offers other benefits beyond the basic membership. Some of those benefits due require extra fees that your insurance carrier may not provide. For example, personal training, tanning, and massage are often extras available for a reduced charge.
Benefits of Participating
Improving your health as you age may be more important than at any time of your life. SilverSneakers offers not only benefits your physical health but your mental and emotional health as well.
Just in case you aren’t convinced of improving your health post-65. Here are several physical benefits and actions to consider.
- Basic Health Prescription: Experts agree that throughout your life endurance exercise, flexibility, and strength training are necessary ingredients to good health. Balance exercises can be important if you are a risk for falls.
- Run from Inactivity: The two most important things for your health, if you are over 65, is to avoid inactivity, and to keep your legs strong. Lose of leg strength will lead to inactivity which can easily cascade into a host of other problems.
- Exercise benefits mental health: Over the last several years there has been a push for older adults to stay mentally activity. Games, crosswords, and apps have been built to keep your mind sharp. Did you know that exercising your body will improve your mind? New mental connections take place during exercise as well as improvement in circulation and release of beneficial youth inducing hormones.
- Simple Exercise Yields Big Improvements: It is great to be vigorous when you exercise, but even walking can be of benefit. 30 minutes of walking five days a week will reduce your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes by as much as 40%. 60 minutes a day will protect you against bowel, breast, and prostate cancer.
- Aggressive Exercise is not out of reach: A recent study in Cell Metabolism found that High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) even among older adults can yield benefits such as reversing signs of aging within cells. The over-65 group in the study had a dramatic 69 percent increase in cells’ ability to take in oxygen and produce energy
- Weight Loss: Exercise burns calories and improves metabolism, and with slight diet changes excess way can be shed.
- Makes You Happier: Chemicals are released in the brain through exercise that improves mood and improves overall energy.
- Good for muscle and bones. Bone density improves with exercise. You can gain and maintain muscle even after 65.
- Reduce Chronic Disease. Exercise has an effect on insulin control and can prevent and reduce chronic disease as a result.
As important as exercise may be, the social connection may be more vital for longevity and quality of life. SilverSneakers greatly emphasizes this piece of their program and there are multiple reasons for this focus.
- Social connection always improve biomarkers of health: You may have heard of the Blue Zones. Those are areas of the world with the highest percentage of centenarians. In most cases, they have versions of a good diet, but the one commonality among all of the zones is deep social relationships. No one is isolated and everyone is connected.
- Blood Pressure Improvements: Studies have shown that people who have deep feelings of loneliness have higher blood pressure on average.
- Reduce Depression: Loneliness is a large risk factor for depression, and social interaction lessens feelings of isolation.
- Mortality: Social isolation increases the risk of mortality
- Mental Decline: Isolation can contribute and hasten mental decline and increase the risk of dementia.
It is just as important to maintain deep social connections as we age, and SilverSneakers provides those opportunities.
The program works! When surveying SilverSneakers members, 94% rate their health as excellent, very good, or good. 91% of those surveyed agreed that the program improved their quality of life.
Eligibility for Silver Sneakers
When you first hear about Silver Sneakers you immediately think, “This is too good to be true! Free gym access, classes, pools, and even massages.”
Most people don’t take advantage of the program because they do not know they qualify. Did you know that 1 in every 5 people over 65 qualifies for the program? Yet not everyone who qualifies participates.
SilverSneakers is not covered under Original Medicare, Part A, and Part B, but Medicare Advantage, also known as Part C, may provide the benefit.
If you have a Medicare Supplement you probably qualify for one of the programs.
The best resource to discover whether you have free access to Silver Sneakers is to contact your health insurance company or visit the Silver Sneakers online health plan finder.
If this is an important benefit for you, make sure to check the benefits of each Advantage or Supplement plan we offer. Many of the companies we represent provide various degrees of Silver Sneakers benefits.
It’s important to remember that even if an insurance company offers SilverSneakers, the fitness program may not be a part of every plan. For example, SilverSneakers membership might be included if you buy an insurance company’s Medigap Plan G, but not if you buy Plan N. If SilverSneakers is important to you, be sure to check that it’s included before you decide which plan to buy.
For more information, call the SilverSneakers Customer Service hotline at 1-888-423-4632, Monday through Friday, from 8AM to 8PM ET (TTY users call 711).
This interactive map will help you find locations in your geographic area or use the SilverSneakers GO app.
…and by the way, SilverSneakers doesn’t sell shoes (you wouldn’t believe how often we get that question).