Kathleen Mohle was 30 years old when The Temptations released “My Girl” in 1965. Now the classic tune – “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day . . ." – serves as workout music for the active 84-year-old, one of 20 seniors in a SilverSneakers class at the Armbrust YMCA. SilverSneakers is a health and fitness program designed specifically for adults age 65 and older.
“It definitely helps your mobility, brain function and balance,” Mohle says.
Membership in many Medicare Advantage plans offers unlimited access to SilverSneakers classes, including Classic, Circuit, Cardiofit and Splash; more than 16,000 gyms in the SilverSneakers network; and all FLEX classes held outside of traditional fitness facilities, in recreation centers, parks and adult living facilities.
The Armbrust YMCA offers its lower-intensity SilverSneakers Classic class on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. It also offers a SilverSneakers Stability class on Mondays at 12:15 p.m. (Visit metroymca.org to see SilverSneakers offerings at other metro area YMCAs.)
As soon as that iconic, opening “My Girl” guitar riff is heard, Mohle and the others snap to attention and start marching in place, coached and encouraged by the Y's Kathy Peters, a certified SilverSneakers instructor.
“It’s probably the largest class we have on the schedule,” Peters says. “We have all different fitness levels. That’s the beauty of the program.”
For the next 45 minutes, she leads the group through a cardio workout, which includes step touches, knee lifts and low kicks. Participants also strengthen with hand weights, work on balance and practice a bit of yoga. Everyone has their own high-backed chair to lean on for extra support, if necessary.
“We do patterns – such as sets of eight, six and four to the beat of the music – for some brain stimulation,” Peters says. “We also do a lot of cross-brain activities like left leg, right arm combinations.”
The research is undeniable: Adults age 65 and older who adopt a physically active lifestyle can substantially improve their well being, longevity and independence, while reducing their health risks.
According to SilverSneakers’ 2017 Annual Participant Survey, 93% of SilverSneakers participants report “Excellent,” “Very Good” or “Good” health compared to 84 percent of non-participants. That equates to lower health care costs. A study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease found that SilverSneakers participants incurred $500 less in total health care costs during their second year and had fewer hospital admissions in years one and two compared with the control group.
Barb Tesch, who has been participating in SilverSneakers with Mohle for four years, can feel the difference. The 77-year-old used to have knee problems – but not anymore.
“It actually helps to move,” she says.
The SilverSneakers fitness benefit is included in all three of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s Medicare Advantage plans (Part C), which encompass both Medicare Parts A and B and can also include prescription drug, dental and vision benefits. Some Medicare Supplement Insurance plans offer some kind of fitness benefit or discount as well. Review your plan coverage and contact your insurance company if you have questions about how to utilize the benefit.
Before starting a SilverSneakers class, Peters recommends getting a doctor’s approval and then, “do what you can do comfortably,” she says. “If your neighbor is doing eight-pound weights, and you’re doing three-pound weights, that’s okay.”
A steady source of energy and encouragement, Peters says SilverSneakers is her favorite class to teach: “There’s something about this class – their joy in being there.”
“Everyone is friendly,” Mohle says. “We talk to ‘beaucoup’ people every morning.”
That’s enough to bring sunshine on the cloudiest day.
If you have a Medicare plan that offers the SilverSneakers benefit, you can sign up online at Tools.SilverSneakers.com and begin accessing the perks.
Learn more about Medicare plans from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska at NebraskaBlue.com/Medicare.