by Carole Ann Borges

Today’s seniors rock, but not while sitting in old wooden porch chairs. Today’s seniors are getting up, getting out, and getting fit.

Anna Patterson, a brown haired woman with a big smile arrives early to a room on the second floor of the Associated Therapeutics Center, 2704 Mineral Springs Road, in North Knoxville.  Today she will enjoy a special exercise class and share time with friends. If anyone in her class is missing someone will call to make sure they are okay.

Because of an innovative, new, insurance-provided health benefit called SilverSneakers, therapy centers, YMCAs, YWCAs and fitness centers across the nation are providing exercise classes specifically designed for senior citizens. Most major health insurers now offer SilverSneakers benefits through Medicare supplements.

SilverSneakers logo

“I’ve been coming a couple of years now,” Ms. Patterson says. “It’s helped my health, my attitude, everything. I wasn’t exercising before this. Kathryn, our instructor, gives us talks and really keeps us going. I feel like she really cares about our well-being. I respond to that.”

The SilverSneakers program allows participants to enjoy full membership in any partnering facility.

Currently there are 10,000 facilities nationwide in the Healthways’ SilverSneakers network. Healthways’ goal is to connect Medicare group retirees through their major health plans with specifically designed exercise programs at no additional cost.

SilverSneakers collage
Tina Baker pauses before she goes into a side room to retrieve a ball, some weights, and some stretch bands—equipment the center provides and maintains. “Please notice how sparkly your stretch bands are today,” the white-haired instructor quips. “I cleaned them myself yesterday.” Everyone laughs. Tina is grateful for the class. “I was going downstairs for the exercise [on the machines],”she says, “ but I was hurting myself. I like this class. I feel energized. The best part is the way it makes you feel when you’re finished.”

Mary Swanson founded the SilverSneakers Fitness Program in 1992. After her father had a heart attack at age 51, she designed a set of exercises to help him recover, and these quickly became one of the nation’s leading exercise programs. Later she sold the program to Healthways, a company providing group solutions to a variety of health problems.

Kathryn Eldridge ,the popular fitness instructor, believes a good exercise program can prevent many problems plaguing seniors.  A vivacious person with an athletic body and a pump-them-up and move-those-bodies-around attitude, she says, “I enjoy all the classes I teach.”

“I get a lot of comments from Aqua 1, the arthritis friendly class in the pool, and the SilverSneakers class is very popular. The Healthways program requires that we offer their specially designed classes at least twice a week. Those are the ones that Anna and Tina attend. We are trained and certified for that. There’s a really good sense of camaraderie, and it is an excellent class for beginners. People like it so much they stick with it.”


Kathryn Eldridge leads SilverSneaker classes and more at Associated Therapeutics.

Kelly Williams, Fitness Director at Associated Therapeutics, one of several locations in Knoxville that have partnered with SilverSneakers, says, “The value in SilverSneakers is that it encourages people to improve their fitness and their health and to maintain their fitness. The trick is to help people who have not exercised regularly make exercise a life-long habit. That’s what we’re focused on—keeping people coming three times a week, so they will actually see the benefits of their working out. It’s probably one of the most important parts, seeing them start to feel better and letting us know they are getting more fit and feeling better.”

According to data compiled by Healthworks, the benefits of the program are far reaching.

“Enrollment in the SilverSneakers Fitness Program has been proven to reduce members’ high-risk, sedentary behaviors. The physical and mental health status scores of SilverSneakers members are consistently higher than those reported for this age group nationally on the Medicare Health Outcomes survey. Sixty-nine percent of members report that their overall health has improved since joining SilverSneakers, 48% say their diet is healthier, and 39% say they participate in social activities more often.

SilverSneakers has a demonstrated impact on health care costs. A 2008 CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) funded study showed SilverSneakers participants utilize preventive care more often, are admitted to the hospital less often and have lower overall healthcare costs. Studies show older adults with diabetes who participate inSilverSneakers are also admitted to the hospital less often, have lower inpatient care costs, and see significant reductions in their overall health care costs after only a year.”

For more information about classes at Associated Therapeutics, call 865-687-4537. For information about the national program or to find the other locations offering SilverSneakers in the Knoxville area, visit their website at

© Carole Ann Borges, 2013.

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