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Danville fitness classes tailored for seniors

DANVILLE — A program that helps senior citizens stay physically and socially active has classes packed at Danville's Ephraim McDowell Wellness Center.

The Healthways Silver Sneakers fitness program allows people who have health insurance through a participating plan and are Medicare-eligible to get a free gym membership.

Healthways, the company that administers Silver Sneakers, also provides various workout programs tailored for seniors. Classes in muscular strength, range of motion and yoga are currently available, with others in the works.

Dee Coffey, supervisor of member services at the wellness center, said enrollment already has far surpassed expectations since the program was initiated in September.

"Right now, we have 251 people enrolled," she said. "We identified around 800 people within a five-mile area surrounding us, and the goal was to try and get a quarter of those to come within two years. We have obviously already exceeded that, and we are hoping that more insurance providers will continue to add the program."

The burgeoning enrollment is evident by looking at Lori Harris' muscular strength and range of motion class. Harris began seeing nearly 50 people show up at her 10:15 a.m. class and has added a noon session.

"A lot of our students don't realize that they have lost strength in certain areas, and this class really helps them regain some of that," she said. "We also have people who have had hip replacements, knee replacements, strokes. This gives them a workout that is challenging but not extremely high-impact."

Two of Harris' students, Pat and Chris Depp, came specifically for Silver Sneakers. Pat said the program, and Harris in particular, would make them permanent fixtures at the gym. "Lori is wonderful, and this class has really made a difference already. I have noticed that I am much more limber, especially in my neck and back. This will definitely keep us coming here."

Many who already came to the wellness center on a regular basis have positive things to say about Silver Sneakers as well.

Jack Cody, a Danville physician, exercised several times a week, played golf and skied. However, he said he has found benefits from some of the new offerings.

"The yoga has really improved my golf, which is really more about flexibility than strength," Cody said.

The goals of Silver Sneakers are larger than firming and toning.

Phyllis Adams was an early advocate of bringing the program to the wellness center. After hearing that her Humana health insurance plan covered Silver Sneakers, she lobbied the staff for more than a year to participate in the program.

Although she already exercised regularly, Adams said the interaction that is fostered by Silver Sneakers is just as valuable. "It is so good socially, because it gets people out of the house to meet each other who probably never would have. I met someone through this who got me into basket weaving, which I really enjoy."