Seniors shape up SilverSneakers program helps older Lowcountry participants reap benefits of regular exercise

Rosalie Ellis, 69, exercises with others in the Silver Sneakers program at the Tallmadge (Ohio) Rec Center.

Nancy Hunt took the first fitness class of her life at age 76.

A year later, she’s going to a local recreation center three times a week.

“I’m not so much of a couch potato now,” she said, pausing while 30 other seniors around her marched in place and twirled their arms to an instructor’s cadence.

Still, if her insurance provider didn’t pay for the workout, she probably wouldn’t be going, she admitted.

Hunt of Tallmadge, Ohio, is one of a growing number of the 65-and-over set taking advantage of SilverSneakers, a national fitness program, according to Silver, that lists programs at several locations in the Charleston area. There are more than 11,000 participating facilities nationwide, including fitness centers, gyms, YMCAs and Curves.

East Shore Athletic Club offers SilverSneakers at four of its 13 locations, including Johnnie Dodds Boulevard in Mount Pleasant, Daniel Island, Pine Point in West Ashley and Goose Creek.

“We have a good number of people who take classes on Mondays and Wednesdays (at Johnnie Dodds),” said club manager Matthew Winston, adding that some seniors work out on their own or join other classes that include younger people.

SilverSneakers has been popular for seven years at the Berkeley County Family YMCA in Moncks Corner, where literally hundreds of seniors take advantage of free access to its fitness equipment and facilities.

“It’s a really great program,” said Kimberly Nolte, director of the Berkeley Y. “It’s geared around improving range of motion and balance and is great for people who have had hip or knee replacements, suffer from arthritis, or have had heart attacks or strokes.”

Nolte said the facility’s SilverSneakers, offered primarily by Humana in the Berkeley County area, has twice-a-week range-of-motion classes and six “splash,” or pool-based, classes.

Increasingly, health care providers are paying for the program because the benefits “are definable and measurable,” said David Cooper, director of the Tallmadge, Ohio, recreation center, which began offering the program in 2010.

“What it does for people is amazing,” he said. His center has nearly 2,000 SilverSneakers members.

“I’ve had people thank me personally, and want to share their success stories. They’ll say, ‘I was walking with a cane and now I don’t need it,’ or tell me how they don’t need their diabetes medicine anymore.”

More than 40 Medicare health plans offer the program as a benefit to members across the nation, according to the SilverSneakers website, which offers an interactive map to help people find out if their plan covers the fitness program.

The program is no secret, said Margo Terry, a fitness instructor at Tallmadge.

“Seniors are the best word of mouth going on,” she said, noting that enrollment has “skyrocketed” since the center first became a provider.

There’s another benefit to the trend: Rec centers find another income source.

The city-owned Tallmadge facility gained $200,000 last year. The center gets $3.40 each time a member uses the service, up to 10 visits a month.

Because the seniors use the facility during slower periods in the morning and early afternoon, the growth in attendance isn’t colliding with the typical busy after-school and after-work hours, Cooper said.

While the program means more money for the center’s coffers, it means less is coming out of Vittorio Quaranta’s wallet.

The 70-year-old Tallmadge man said he paid about $280 a year to use the center’s walking track and fitness equipment. Now his supplemental insurance through Anthem pays for it through SilverSneakers.

He had heart surgery four years ago, but the regular workout keeps him in shape to still be a soccer referee once a week.

“I feel better, and I have more energy,” he said.

Added his wife, Rosemarie: “We’re making new friends, too.”

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David Quick of The Post and Courier contributed to this story.