SilverSneakers, senior center programs provide healthy outlet
by Kara Lopp
Sarah Purvis used to think of exercise as a chore.
But since the 72-year-old Mint Hill resident had a heart attack in February 2008, exercise has not only become part of her routine but an enjoyable part – thanks to the SilverSneakers program.
The program, an arm of Franklin, Tenn.-based Healthways, is available to seniors through health plans nationwide, including Medicare patients or retiree groups. Through the program, seniors can attend exercise classes and receive free or discounted gym memberships at participating fitness centers.
Purvis attends classes – for free – at least three times a week at Matthews’ Lifestyle Family Fitness, 9915 E. Independence Blvd. Some Snap Fitness locations also offer SilverSneakers classes: 5716 Wyalong Drive, near Mint Hill; 1310 Wesley Chapel Road, Indian Trail; and 4805 Park Road, Charlotte.
“I really didn’t like exercising, and now it’s just a part of me,” Purvis said. “It’s become built in me. At 11 a.m., I head over to Lifestyles. I tell people this is something I have to do. I have to make sure that this is a priority.”
Since joining Lifestyles in September 2008, Purvis has seen a huge improvement in her agility and strength. And she’s glad. After all, she has to keep up with a husband who jogs an average of 30 miles a week.
“Before, when I’d get on the floor to get into the cabinets, I’d barely be able to get up. I just come right up now,” she said.
On the move
At the nonprofit Levine Senior Center in Matthews, exercise is an important part of the program. With more than a dozen exercise classes, ranging from aerobics and yoga to ballroom and hula dancing, there’s no reason for area residents not to get moving, Dahn Jenkins, the center’s executive director, said. In November, Jenkins became a certified arthritis exercise instructor through the Arthritis Foundation and now teaches free arthritis classes that are open to the public. The center also has a pool and offers water classes.
The center, at 1050 DeVore Lane, offers exercise classes “to keep seniors healthy and active and keep their independence for as long as possible,” Jenkins said. “With consistent exercise, there’s less chance you’re going to have a fall because it can improve your balance. Plus, they feel good afterward.”
Dee Dec, 66, of Mint Hill can attest to that. She’s been taking tai chi at the center for at least four years and says she’ll even do the moves at night if she’s having trouble sleeping.
“I just love the moves, the way it flows,” she said. “There’s no exertion to it. It’s just slow and rhythmic. It’s like a dance, really. If you have a rough day, it helps get you through it.”
Jeanine Golden of Monroe says she continues taking tai chi after two years of classes for the improvement she’s seen to her balance and memory.
“I’m 76 years old, and it’s important to do this,” she said. In tai chi, “you cannot have another thought because the minute you start to have another thought, your foot is on the wrong step.”
Charlie Dosé, 80, of Indian Trail, agrees. He’s coming back to tai chi after an illness kept him away from the exercise for months.
“I had seen it on TV and the Internet, and I’d heard about the benefits,” he said. “It’s a challenge for me. It’s primarily helping my balance but, hopefully, my memory, too. If you forget something, though, you can look to the person next to you.”
‘Start low, go slow’
Dr. Lakshmi Chalavadi of Presbyterian Senior Healthcare said exercise, even in small amounts, is essential for all adults, especially those 50 and older. Chalavadi works with senior patients to eat healthier and move more. Those basics can prevent serious illness and even falls or hospitalization, she said.
“Physical activity also improves that mental activity,” she said. “No matter what age you are, I encourage some form of physical activity, especially in the elderly population. That’s when you start falling down, or you start slowing down.”
As people age, “the muscles are trying to weaken slowly, and the bones are slowing down,” she said. Seniors who don’t exercise regularly “lose most of their muscle mass and bone mass, too.”
For those who’ve been out of the exercise scene for a while, Chalavadi tells her patients to “start low, go slow.” She recommends starting with five to 10 minutes of walking each day and then increasing that amount and eventually including aerobic exercise and working with small weights and even a resistance band. Exercise can even fend off anxiety and depression, she said.
“A little bit of exercises will eventually show their effect,” she said. “I want (seniors) to be persistent, go slow and don’t give up. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Find more information about SilverSneakers online at www.silversneakers.com. Find more information about the Levine Senior Center online at www.levineseniorcenter.org or call 704-846-4654.