Although it sounds like a new type of kicks, it’s not, but it does offer a good opportunity to use whatever sneakers you have – for health and wellness. The SilverSneakers program brings the idea of a gym membership to a whole new level. The program offers eligible seniors free unlimited access to participating gyms, as part of health insurance Medicare (Medigap) supplement policies.
What Is Silver Sneakers?
To break that down, SilverSneakers provides access to member gyms, and fitness classes to seniors who qualify through their Medicare Supplement Insurance, at no charge to the individual. The intent of the program is to encourage and promote health in seniors 65 and over, and to encourage participants to take control of the direction of their lives through physical activity.
Before we look into the Silver Sneakers movement, where it all started, what it offers, who qualifies, and how Silver Sneakers may be able to help you save money on life insurance, here is a brief overview of Silver Sneakers:
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With this being outlined, let’s dive into Silver Sneakers a bit more to see how the program helps seniors around the country every day.
Silver Sneakers History – Where it All Started
Brainchild of Mary Swanson, the CEO of the Tempe Arizona company HealthCare Dimensions, she thought the idea was simple. Medicare Supplement programs would pay her to provide fitness and wellness to seniors through reduced cost gym memberships, which she would pay for with the money from the insurance companies.
It was met with laughter, which did not slow Mary, who was determined to see something come of her desire to bring physical fitness to seniors. Her father had a heart attack at 51, and this brought Mary to the stark reality that he brought it on himself because he had been inactive and sedentary. She found this was true of most seniors, in many places.
Silver Sneakers was founded from this experience in 1992. Today, Mary is a long way from the cajoling and begging she had to do just to sign up Intergroup of Arizona, her first test case for what she had termed SilverSneakers. Today there are more than 60 Medicare Supplement and Medigap Insurers participating, along with 14,000 participating gyms and fitness centers across the country.
Who is Eligible for Silver Sneakers
The eligibility for this program is simple. The program requires you to be age 65 or older and insured in a participating Medicare Advantage, Medigap, or Medicare Supplement plan.
The state you live must participate in the program. The plan offers unlimited access to thousands of gyms across the country who participate in a program. More and more insurers are coming onboard all the time. (checked a local zip code for eligible providers and came up with 17).
Medicare Plans, part A and B do not cover gym memberships, but the Part C, or the Medigap insurance sometimes do. Choosing your plan carefully is must in this fitness driven age.
The Benefits of Silver Sneakers for Seniors
The program offers seniors the chance to increase their health with gym memberships and Flex fitness classes hosted by rec centers, churches, and senior communities, just to name a few.
Flex classes offer an even wider arena for social interaction for seniors, in a climate of physical well being. Studies conducted by Harvard University, and others, have shown that connecting with others, being social and supportive help maintain a positive attitude and live longer in general.
Building Relationships with Other People
The bonds forged during the course of a fitness activity was a better predictor of long life, overall, than many of the factors we are used to applying to long life – socioeconomic level, intelligence, and even genetics.
In addition to the outstanding program, each participating gym location has an advisor, who is trained specifically to introduce seniors to the program and offer guidance and support. There is also invitations to health education seminars and a host of fitness and wellness – related events all around the country.
The results are two-fold, the first is physical – seniors see real improvement in overall health. And the second is emotional – seniors meet all kinds of people, of many ages, who they bond with and as a result become healthier in attitude and spirit.
The program is free in most places or a nominal fee is assessed, call ahead to the location you would like to use and see if it is free – it usually is.
Exercise Plans for Your Individual Needs
Because the founder of the program thinks every person is different in their needs and desires, she has designed a variety of classes to meet individual seniors needs and limitations.
The program managers don’t want the participants to be more than 5 miles from a gym or community center, so there is as little travel as possible – because it has been shown that this population won’t travel.
The Insurance Industry on Healthy Living
For many years health insurance, life insurance and Medicare had been acutely aware that exercise for seniors would impact profits, especially reduce overhead in healthcare and extend premiums in life insurance. Many companies had already toyed with the idea of bringing exercise to the rapidly growing senior population.
Some companies, like Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield in Pittsburgh, PA, realized the advantages to exercise for older individuals and had been struggling to bring the idea to fruition, when they heard about SilverSneakers. The program filled a need that had been lacking for some time in the industry and boosted the overall wellbeing of its members.
Life insurance companies regularly offer better life insurance rates for seniors 65 and over who regularly engage in exercise and who maintain a healthy lifestyle.
How to Apply for Silver Sneakers
The application process is quite simple. Just go to the SilverSneakers website and use their eligibility tool, to answer 5 simple questions. Make sure to search for a Medigap plan that participates and apply for that plan.
Once you are accepted into the plan, you can finish your application and receive a membership card that is good at any participating gym, or FLEX class location.
Life Insurance Discounts Through Silver Sneakers
Many companies offer the SilverSneakers Program with their Medicare supplement insurance plans ( part c). Some offer under Part F or G a discounted life insurance rate.
There is sometimes a small discount on life insurance, like with Aetna Life, or Mutual of Omaha, but it is not well advertised or even widely known to agents. You have to ask the life insurance side of a medicare advantage or Medicare supplement insurance company.
What to Watch Out for with Silver Sneakers
Many Medigap plans do not offer the SilverSneakers Program. Go to the SilverSneakers website and use the search tool for the participating providers in your state. The program is a Basic Fitness Program and as such not covered under Medicare Part A or B.
Studies have shown that along with the success of the program, there are still challenges out there in the vast population of Baby Boomers coming into senior years. The enrollment rate is about 8.3% of the population – although new studies are showing improvement to this number. The program doesn’t actually see as many seniors enrolling as they would like.
An Overall Review of Silver Sneakers
The SilverSneakers program is a phenomenon that is growing exponentially. The SilverSneakers program brings the best of emotional and physical fitness to the forefront of the senior lifestyle.
Silver Sneakers reaches into homes and offices all across the country but is still not widely recognized by the millions of Baby Boomers who are now in their twilight years.
Those are some pretty strong numbers for this growing program, which puts wellbeing and fitness front and center for a population that people tended to forget about, or the participants felt they hadn’t the strength to have a full life, but found out they did.