June 18, 2009

Health care reform & Silver Sneakers



A month ago I joined the Silver Sneakers program at the Ligonier (PA) YMCA. Since participating, I can feel the positive physical effects. Since national health care discussions place this Medicare Advantage program in jeopardy, Silver Sneakers members were asked to write a letter explaining why this program should not be eliminated to reduce governmental health care costs. Below is my letter. Please write one of your own and send it to your legislators.

A nation, a community, a family, are only as healthy as its people.

Thus, quality health care, including preventive and rehabilitative care, should be a major priority. Yet, escalating health care costs are threatening the health of the American people.

Persons who knowingly promote their ill-health should be required to take responsibility for the consequences. Conversely, persons who take responsibility to maintain/regain/improve their health, thereby decreasing the need for medical care, should not be penalized.

The Medicare Advantage funding of the Silver Sneakers health maintainance/rehabilitative exercise program, geared towards improving/developing the health of America’s senior citizens, is an example of preventative medicine.

Health care reform discussions include the Silver Sneakers program. This issue is likely to be part of the health care reform bill being drafted this summer. And it is likely the discussions and results of the discussions will be to eliminate this preventative, health-building program, even though the evidence repeatedly supports the fact that exercise is an essential aspect of maintaining/regaining healthy bodies. Combined with good dietary habits and the elimination of health/accident-reducing habits, such as smoking, excessive drinking, and helmetless motorcycle riding, exercise can result in fewer serious illnesses, thereby actually decreasing the cost of healthcare.  

Americans need to make a “cultural shift” in the direction of making better lifestyle choices. Wellness plans like the Silver Sneakers program create healthy individuals. Healthy individuals keep health care costs down.

A side benefit of the Silver Sneakers participants is the example set for the younger generations, many of whom are locked into unhealthy lifestyles. My 11-year old granddaughter watches me swim laps, and even races me (winning every time). She would not be swimming any laps without my encouragement. After all, if Grandma can do it, she should be able to do it.

While swimming laps at the Ligonier (PA) swimming pool the other day, I met a 27-year old newlywed who was sharing my lane. He looked at me in disbelief when I told him that I was old enough to be his grandmother. Later, when I told him that if I had borne a child at age 20, and that child also had an offspring at age 20, that I would have a grandchild his age, his look changed from disbelief to awe. He told me he thought I was only in my early 50s.

Then he shared that his grandmother would NEVER have been swimming laps when she was 67. THIS is an example for the younger generations.

But then, his grandmother lived in a slightly different day and age. In today’s world, there is an understanding that lifestyle decisions have a dramatic effect on health, and that preventive medical behaviors can improve a person’s life and lower medical costs.

I have a sister who experienced a disabling, debilitating, heart attack at age 42. Since then, her medical bills have skyrocketed.

Three years ago I sidestepped a similar heart attack, just missing “the big one.” At age 62 I became a cardiac artery disease patient. I had a stent placed in my lateral descending artery, which was well over 90% blocked.

What differentiated our situations? Our lifestyle decisions were very different. She smoked, did not maintain a heart-healthy diet, and undoubtedly did not exercise. I was smoke-free, and my diet was basically heart-healthy.

Another female relative was a heavy smoker, ate a poor diet, and didn’t exercise. Twice she had major hospitalizations, each one bringing her to death’s door. The first was for pneumonia. The second was a quadruple bypass that occurred three months after she experienced a stroke. She was 63 years old. Following each hospitalization, she acted to quit smoking, but returned to the habit not long after each crisis was over.

She was not ignorant to the role her lifestyle played in her health problems, but did not change that lifestyle.

Three years after I received the stent, I turned 65 and became eligible for the Silver Sneakers program. Then I procrastinated signing on for six more months. The classes I’d experienced during an open house at the Ligonier YMCA didn’t appeal to me, since I have abdominal adhesions and knee problems that interfered with my participation. When I finally, reluctantly, signed up, I discovered that Silver Sneakers membership entitled me to use the fitness room and the pool. I designed my own program, eliminating the fitness machines that exacerbate my medical conditions. The treadmill and elliptical machines serve my purpose well. I make use of the fitness machines that do not pull on the adhesions or harm my knees.

Following my sessions in the fitness room, I visit the pool. Within three weeks I was swimming a mile, although I find half a mile to three-quarters mile is more comfortable. To compensate for the shorter distance, I have increased the intensity of the swim strokes.

I am beginning to feel better, and can see my strength increasing. I am documenting my experience and progress on my writing blog: (click on the FITNESS PROGRAM folder in the right hand column).

I encouraged my reluctant husband, who has had few medical problems although he is five years my senior, to sign up for a Silver Sneakers membership. When he saw the extent of the fitness equipment, he was impressed. Now he attends three times a week—using the fitness room, but not the pool. He was never a swimmer, like I was.

Do I enjoy the fitness regimen? No, I do not. I am a sedentary person, a writer, who enjoys nothing more than sitting on my patio and reading or writing on my laptop or visiting with neighbors and friends. It takes a great deal of self-discipline to use the fitness room and the pool. But I do it. Most of the time.

Persons participating in the Silver Sneakers program are those who care about their health, and those who are taking action to maintain/regain that health. They are participating in preventive medicine through their lifestyle choices.

It angers me that I, and those like me, may lose this benefit while many of our health tax-care dollars go to support persons who don’t take action to care for their health—smokers with problems who continue to smoke, drinkers with liver problems…  Those who make positive health care choices may be penalized because it is “too expensive.” How expensive is it to cover the costs of ill-health for those who smoke?

Consider this when discussing the issue of Silver Sneakers and the Medicare Advantage funding: programs like the Silver Sneakers should be expanded, not deleted.

Carolyn C. Holland

Laughlintown, PA Fitness Program folder


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1 Comment »

  1. Since Silver Sneakers if funded by private insurance companies, how can healthcare reform possibly impact this program? This is not funded by government-sponsored Medicare, as far as I can determine.

    Comment by Linda Marazoni — August 14, 2012 @ 10:03 pm | Reply

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