Silver Sneakers seniors show exercise is for everyone


Shakira Taylor

Seniors participate in the Silver Sneakers fitness group in the FRC.

The Silver Sneakers Program at PNW is a functional exercise program designed for eligible senior citizens.

The program focuses on muscular strength and range of movement, exercises that help with day-to-day activities. The exercises can be done seated or standing and utilize dumbbells, resistance bands and mini exercise balls.

John Bobalik, fitness director, and Tabitha Stills, Fitness and Recreation Center manager, are the class instructors. They brought Silver Sneakers to the Hammond campus in 2009. The program was started at Westville a few months ago.

Lina Hamel, 70, has been in Silver Sneakers for almost a year. She said the program helps with stretching, flexibility and forming muscles in the body.

“The program helps motivate us to come and do exercises,” Hamel said. “I have an issue with balance and that’s a big part of growing older. I’m a Type-2 diabetic, so this helps keep my weight down and with my neuropathy in my feet.”

Hamel’s daughter, a PNW police officer, helped her get into contact with Stills and come to the program. Hamel said she likes the camaraderie.

“There’s lot of us. When I first started, there wasn’t many of us and we were in a small room and not the gymnasium,” Hamel said. “We’re of all different ages: some of us are in our sixties, seventies or eighties, but we all get along very well. I guess it’s because we are all here for a specific job, for our health.”

Bobalik and Stills started Silver Sneakers at PNW because they found out a regular member had stopped using the recreation center. He was a Silver Sneakers member and used a different facility. They then looked into becoming a Silver Sneakers facility, went through a process and passed the evaluation.

Stills said the program has about 300 members and each class has around 30 to 35 members. She said it’s a great community program and it’s rewarding that PNW can provide support for the members.

“They are my most loyal and faithful group and arrange their lives around this,” Stills said. “They’re committed and not only to PNW and John and I, but to themselves, peers and the program.”

Stills said the oldest member is 94 and that there are a couple of 90-year-olds as well. She said they are setting examples.

“It’s good for our students to see that no matter what age, you can still exercise. It serves as motivation for our younger generation,” Stills said.

Stills said the members act like a close family.

“If you asked the members why they come, they will obviously say it’s for their health and to gain independence, but socially there’s a connection,” Stills said.

Stills said one way they showed their support for each other was by them wearing red. One of the members, Sally Ferry, announced to the class that she would start wearing red on Fridays to support active and inactive military men and women.

“Ever since then, it just caught on. They approached me to order red shirts with the PNW logo and that’s the Friday attire now,” Stills said.

Hamel said she enjoys Bobalik and Stills as instructors because they’re more like friends than instructors and they’re encouraging. Hamel recommends the program to people because it works well.

“As you get older, things don’t work like they did in your twenties, thirties and even forties,” Hamel said. “It’s difficult to regain that, but this helps us to see how far we can push ourselves and our limits.”

Doris Venzke, 89, enjoys the program as well. She has been in Silver Sneakers for seven years.

“I’m still here, and anything beats watching television,” Venzke said. “I love all the exercises we do. The instructors are very nice and great at their job. It just does the body good.”

Stills said she loves teaching the classes because of the benefits the members get from the program.

“It’s wonderful because they come in with a smile and leave with a smile,” Stills said. “I hear their stories of what they can accomplish, like, ‘I was able to go down the stairs with no problem today. I could pick up my grandchild and I couldn’t do that three months ago or my shoulder was bothering me, but now it doesn’t.’”

Stills also said the benefits provide them with a better quality of life.

“They want to keep their independence, and that’s important for them,” Stills said. “They can do things easily, not have a lot of discomfort and feel good about themselves. I tell them, ‘Think of all the years you have done things for everybody else. This is the time to do something for you.’ This is a treat, and not something stressful. You want them to enjoy it and have fun.”

Eligible members are those on Medicare and have a supplemental insurance program. Silver Sneakers is held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 10a.m.-11a.m. in the Fitness and Recreation Center gymnasium.