Nancy Mehring, senior advisor, started SilverSneakers at Flathead Health & Fitness about two years ago with two people.
“Now I have 55 active participants,” she said.
A national program offered through local fitness centers, Healthways SilverSneakers Fitness Program has nearly a million members taking part in an exercise program designed exclusively for older adults. Many Medicare insurance plans such as Humana Gold, Secure Horizons and Athena offer free fitness memberships through their plans.
According to Mehring, over 900 people in this area carry some of those plans. She hopes to encourage those as well as others to check out her classes with levels for beginners as well as for fit and active seniors.
From her experience, Mehring said many seniors hesitate because of misconceptions about fitness centers.
“They think of a health club as a place where people wear skin-tight clothing,” Mehring said with a laugh.
Many older people, both men and women, attend these classes in whatever comfortable clothes they own. Exercisers come in all shapes and in all levels of fitness.
Mehring said one couple that just joined worried that they had too many aches and pains to participate.
“I said ‘Just come and try it,’” she said. “Now they sit right at the front of the class.”
Another woman had a stroke and uses a walker. The exercises helped her move her arms and legs more as well as become more outgoing.
“Just to see her blossom and open up has been great,” Mehring said.
With her disabilities, she was still able to benefit from the SilverSneaker “starter” level 1 class. The moves emphasize muscular strength and range of motion using weights, rubber bands and small soft balls.
Seniors may use chairs to sit or use for balance when standing.
“It’s really a doable fitness class,” Mehring said. “It’s is a good place for people to start.”
Her level II class uses the same fitness tools but mixes in cardiovascular work through aerobic moves. Mehring must pre-approve seniors for the more advanced class since it requires a lot of standing.
She bases her evaluations and teaching on brings 25 years of experience as well as certification from the American Fitness Association of America.
“I started in low-impact aerobics,” Mehring said. “I’ve taught kickboxing, spinning, toning and even yoga.”
Mehring also has training in CPR. She previously taught senior classes at The Summit and worked with Mountain West Bank’s seniors’ program.
The other instructor, Julie Cummins, has a certification from National Strength & Conditioning Association for Personal Training as well as a CPR
certificate. Cummins and Mehring both trained with Healthways to learn the SilverSneaker methods that have earned national acclaim.
Program participants were studied by the University of Washington and Group Health with grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study documented that committed SilverSneaker exercisers had lower health-care costs, fewer hospitalizations and more commitment to preventive health-care visits.
Members who averaged two or more visits per week over two years had $1,252 less in health-care costs than those who averaged one visit. Mehring has seen these benefits first hand.
“I’ve had people get off blood pressure medication,” she said. “If you take care of yourself, you take pressure off the health-care system.”
Along with exercise classes, Mehring’s SilverSneakers program includes educational speakers as well as fun events as optional parts of her program. Social events take place every other month with events such as bingo and breakfast and a “death by chocolate” cookoff.
“In June, we’re having a picnic at Lawrence Park,” she said.
One of her informational programs featured updates on first aid and CPR.
Mehring has a pile of testimonials collected from class participants about the effectiveness of SilverSneakers classes. Ginny Kengerski said the classes increased her energy and reduced her stress.
“It also reduces hip, shoulder and neck pain by strenthening the muscles around these areas which is very important to us seniors,” Kengerski wrote. “And last but not least, it tightens the buns!”
Mehring said people may check with their insurance plans to see if SilverSneakers is covered by calling the 1-800 number listed on the back of their cards. They may also call her to find out about punch cards available from the club or information about the days and times of classes.
“I love people to call me at home,” she said.
Mehring’s home number is 755-4619 or the club number is 752-2438.