Silver Sneakers keeps seniors healthy through exercise and friendship

pseligson@newsobserver.comMarch 21, 2014 

Upbeat music, friendship and feeling great afterward. That’s what keeps these 60-, 70- and 80-year-olds working out each week.

Three times a week, Lois Warren teaches an exercise class for seniors called Silver Sneakers. The group gathers at 10 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center. The classes are free for anyone with a SRAC membership.

The class, open to men and women, starts with a walk on the indoor track and then moves to a dance room for sets of aerobic exercises. Seniors work with hand weights, do floor exercises on yoga mats and sit on large exercise balls while tossing a medicine ball to each other.

Betsy Royall, 86, the oldest one in the group, said the weekly exercise is wonderful. Royall started with an exercise group at Sharon Baptist Church, but that class ended once the instructor left. The current class started when SRAC opened about five years ago. Since then, some members have left, but new ones have joined.

At 86, Royall remains active. She said exercising is what keeps her healthy and mobile.

“I’ve been exercising for quite a long time, and I think it’s what everyone should do,” she said. “This is what we all need to do to keep going.”

Janice Elliott, 73, who lives near Dunn, said she loves the exercise group. “It keeps your body moving,” she said.

Plus, she enjoys seeing her friends. “We’re like a family away from home,” Elliott said.

Eunice Nixon, 70, said she likes that the class focuses on flexibility and mobility. “I like it because it tones you up,” she said.

Linda Johnson, 68, of Smithfield said she’s always exercised and played sports, so she wanted to continue as she got older. “This helps you get limbered up and stretch,” she said.

The exercises help her feel physically better; she recently broke her arm and is still recovering, Johnson said. “It just helps stretch my muscles and body,” she said.

She too likes the camaraderie. “You get to know different friends and people at the different classes,” Johnson said.

Warren said she modifies the exercises for people who have health problem so they can still take part in the class. The exercises focus on staying flexible, keeping a full range of movement and balance. “We try to focus on all the muscles, do a whole-body workout,” Warren said.

For seniors who live in Smithfield, joining SRAC costs $27 a month. Warren said some health-insurance companies will pick up that cost through their wellness programs.

During the winter, Warren said, some seniors end up staying indoors all day and don’t get exercise. That can cause isolation and depression. Silver Sneakers is a chance to exercise regardless of the weather, and a chance to socialize.

“You’ve got to move your different muscles and body to maintain an active lifestyle,” Warren said. “I just love it. I would be here whether I was instructing or not.”

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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