Silver Sneakers brings fun, fitness to people 55+
“Step, touch, right, left. And just let your arms swing.”
Arms swing as feet step, touch, right left. Soft music underlies the tapping of feet in the back room of the Sportsplex.
“Hips go side to side. Two right, two left, single single double … and a big hula hoop!”
Barbara Kent leads the class of more than a dozen through moves perhaps not often seen in a typical workout class – or at least, rarely so described. “Put your seatbelt on.” “Get your lawn mower out.” “Give yourself a hug.”
“These people didn’t grow up in a fitness center. They grew up working,” Kent explained. “It’s just a different mindset. They worked, but they didn’t work out. I think the reason this is so successful is because it’s based in functionality.”
The class is Silver Sneakers. The target audience is those age 55 and above.
“Silver Sneakers is all about stretching the strong and strengthening the weak,” said Kent, who was on the ground floor of the program’s start-up in Opelika. “I have taught fitness for years, but this particularly grabs my heart because it makes a difference on so many levels.”
Kent was already a fitness instructor with Opelika Parks and Recreation when she received a call from Healthways out of Atlanta, the administering company of Silver Sneakers, about seven years ago. A representative came to Opelika to present the program to Kent and OPR.
“I just knew it was something we had to have,” Kent said. “She sold me the first few minutes she was here. What I found out was, she was interviewing us to make sure we were able to host it, and we were in competition.”
Opelika was able to acquire the program, and the first class started out with seven female participants.
“It’s just been a love story ever since,” Kent said. “It grew exponentially.”
It wasn’t long before the program had outgrown its workout room at the Denson Drive Recreation Center and had to be moved to the gym. Not long after that, it had again outgrown its allotted space and expanded to offer multiple sessions per week.
“It’s functional fitness at its absolute best,” Kent said. “It helps you to live better … It’s all about the fun. It’s all about the friends. I’ve seen friendships happen in there. There are two ladies who have come together through grief – they’ve each had a loss.”
Kent said the median age for participants in the Sportsplex Silver Sneaker classes is 70. Multiple classes are offered, and other instructors include Tyrone White and Jeremy Gray.
It’s a low impact class that takes into account participants’ ages and limitations, but it’s a class that doesn’t stop. Kent keeps them going the full class period. “Both arms. Opposite arms. Heels to the back – heels, heels. Same arm. Opposite arm.”
Kent, an Atlanta native, worked full time at the Sportsplex for 20 years. Prior to that, when she and her husband lived in Texas, Kent was a 12th grade world history and American government teacher. When they moved to Opelika she purchased the Tennis Center Pro Shop before becoming involved with Parks and Recreation classes.
“I just kind of eased into a job as a part time fitness instructor,” Kent said.
Since becoming involved with Silver Sneakers, she also found a position with Healthways as an instructor coordinator, in which position she evaluates other instructors throughout her region to be sure they are teaching the classes properly.
“There is a huge quality control,” Kent said. “To be a Silver Sneaker instructor, you have to have a national certification … you have to continually have continuing education credits. You have to have a current CPR. You have to take the courses offered by Healthways.”
Kent emphasizes two rules in the Silver Sneakers class: if it hurts don’t do it, and have fun.
“We are dealing with a special population, and we have to care for them,” Kent said. “There’s not one thing about it that’s not good.”
And at the end of the day, it’s not just participants who enjoy, and benefit from, the class. It’s the instructors as well.
“You have to love this to teach this,” Kent said. “It’s a passion.”
For more information about Silver Sneakers, call the Opelika SportsPlex and Aquatic Center at 705-5560.