As SilverSneakers instructors at the Whatcom Family YMCA, Tammy Bennett and Mary Latta both found their footing by teaching others.
“The day I have to sit at my desk all day is the day I quit,” says Bennett. Out of all the hats she wears at the YMCA, she says instructing for SilverSneakers is one of her favorite things there.
SilverSneakers is a fitness and wellness program for seniors 65+ on eligible Medicare plans. It is designed for people with all fitness levels and abilities and provides access to online and in-person classes.
Bennett has done pinatas in class (and doesn’t recommend it), rented inflatable animal costumes for birthdays, and marches in Bellingham’s St. Patrick’s parade with a specialized routine. She challenges the seniors with incentive programs. Local professionals and volunteers also come in to speak about health and wellness matters.
“We try to make it so you can’t always count on coming in and having it be the same. So maybe that’s switching instructors, adding new or surprising activities, or being guests in others’ classes,” says Bennett.
With socialized isolation being a big risk for seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic, online classes were quickly set up and saw around 100 people in class every day during the height of case numbers. Bennet says about 76 members stay virtual to this day, preferring Zoom classes for reasons such as not having to worry about COVID, finding parking or the additional time needed to get to class.
When the weather warmed in summer 2021, the YMCA brought back the option for in person meetings.
“I have had seniors tell me that they don’t like exercise, but they come to be with their instructor and to be with their friends,” says Bennett. “That’s why some of them are here. They come for the relationships, and then they exercise while they’re at it.”
Trading information about physicians, academic classes, and books they’ve enjoyed are some of the many ways the members stay in the loop. Latta says that the classes allow people the chance to “truly be strong in body, spirit, and mind.”
Adhering to SilverSneakers guidelines means the YMCA’s classes begin with a warm up of the large muscle groups and joints, then practicing the movements sans equipment in order avoid the strains and pains of weightlifting.
Instead of overhead arm extensions, Latta teaches the seniors to do it at a 45-degree angle, mimicking household chores such as putting away dishes or groceries.
Bennett and Latta agree that out of all the classes offered– cardiovascular, endurance, strength, and balance– the last skill is the most important application for independent living.
“It’s nice to see someone go from struggling to stand out of their chair to, down the road, being able to do 20 chair stands. To help people find the strength they need to continue to live independently,” says Latta.
Balance training might not be the most fun class for seniors, but Bennett enjoys watching people become stable on their feet and confident in their steps.
“The people who commit to balance training, I feel like set themselves up for really good fall reduction and for independence longer,” says Bennett. “Because it’s all skills that really matter at home and out in the community.”
1256 N. State St., Bellingham, 360.733.8630, whatcomymca.org