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updated: 7/14/2014 11:48 AM

Silver Sneakers helps keep seniors fit physically and mentally

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  • Kim Monti teaches a Silver Sneakers class at the Kroehler Family YMCA in Naperville.

      Kim Monti teaches a Silver Sneakers class at the Kroehler Family YMCA in Naperville.
    courtesy of Gina Belmont

  • Kim Monti teaches a Silver Sneakers class at the Kroehler Family YMCA in Naperville.

      Kim Monti teaches a Silver Sneakers class at the Kroehler Family YMCA in Naperville.
    courtesy of Gina Belmont

 
By Thomas Mitchinson
Special to the Daily Herald

George Burns once quipped, "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old."

Increasingly, health experts are discovering what George knew -- our attitude toward the aging process makes all the difference in the world.

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People of advanced age have often done marvelous things: Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum in New York when he was in his 90s; Michelangelo fashioned the dome of St. Paul's basilica in his 80s; and Mary Baker Eddy in her late 80s founded The Christian Science Monitor.

As one considers the five aspects of health: mental, emotional, physical, social and spiritual -- we don't want to neglect the spiritual aspect, especially in how we view age.

Gina Belmont, health and wellness director at the Kroehler Family YMCA in Naperville told me, "Seventy-five percent of the battle to longevity is spiritual and psychological wellness."

Belmont and I recently talked about the Y's participation in the nationwide "Silver Sneakers" program -- an effort to offer exercise and social programs to seniors.

Fitness instructor Kim Monti explained that the program is free to all seniors who have Medicare and supplemental health insurance.

"Individuals have often enrolled because of a doctor's referral. Insurance companies have seen their profit margins enlarge through these programs since individuals often get off their prescription medications after participating in the Silver Sneakers program," she said.

It is not just the physical exercise that this program offers that brings release from limitation -- both Monti and Belmont spoke also of the mental empowerment it offers. It helps seniors think of themselves as not growing old, even though they may be advancing in years. This builds confidence, and helps them feel mentally younger, and that results in feeling physically younger also.

"There was a woman who came to us," Monti said. "She had been diagnosed with osteopenia, high blood pressure, and was borderline diabetic. She had been prescribed many medications, and just did not want to be on all of those different pills.

Two years after coming here every day, she has been taken off all her medications. Her bone density has risen. She can hold a six-minute plank. She now attends regular classes with much younger people."

So how does one enhance the spiritual aspect of health? A mental shift away from just accepting the limitations, fears and frustrations associated with number of years is important.

Eddy suggested that we "shape our views of existence into loveliness, freshness, and continuity, rather than into age and blight."

So, we can choose to reflect on goodness -- vitality, flexibility and endurance -- rather than deterioration, illness and dependency. And, this produces significant health benefits.

"There is definitely a shift going on in public and medical thought today -- there are many ways to wellness," Belmont said. "Even though the shift is not complete yet, there is a definite sense that here is an alternative in the treatment of age-related illnesses. Preventive care is an important part of what we are about at Silver Sneakers. There is too much focus on medicine for seniors. Instead, we offer preventive care so you don't need that treatment."

Monti told me about one of her clients; a man who had suffered several strokes. He joined the Silver Sneakers program, participated in it regularly, and has not had a single health issue in the eight years since.

So, how do you view yourself? Instead of focusing on age or number of years you have lived, consider molding and exercising your spiritual qualities. You will feel a newness of life, connected with the divine.

• Thomas (Tim) Mitchinson is a self-syndicated columnist writing on the relationship between thought, spirituality and health, and trends in that field. He is also the media spokesman for Christian Science in Illinois. You can contact him at illinois@compub.org.

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