Aging Well

Aging Well

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Spotlight

Why getting to the Y is important -- especially as you age

Posted December 10, 2019 4:57 p.m. EST
Updated December 12, 2019 5:00 a.m. EST

Being part of a Silver Sneakers or senior fitness program can add life to your years.

This article is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

We know that being physically fit and staying socially connected often translates to better health no matter what our age. But it can make even more of a difference, particularly as we age. How then do we motivate everyone, but especially seniors, to do so?

“If you simply tell your older patients that they need to lose 50 pounds or stop smoking, it doesn’t go very far,” Dr. Ben Fischer, of the Fischer Clinic, recently said. “However, if you have a relationship with your patient and walk with them through a change, you’re much more likely to see something significant happen.”

Dr. Fischer has been meeting his patients at the Alexander YMCA for weekly fitness classes for over a decade now and has seen some impressive results. His program is not the only one.

Silver Sneakers, a health and fitness program founded in 1992 for adults over 65 that gives them free access to over 16,000 fitness facilities across the United States, has unequivocally documented numerous benefits. For example, according to a recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, Silver Sneakers members who participate in group exercise are more active, feel healthier, and are less likely to experience social isolation than non-members. Additionally, they are at lower risk of overall disability, have fewer hospitalizations, can perform the six activities of daily living for longer, and have a higher quality of life. It is important to know that participants were matched with controls of the same age, fitness levels and health. It is also worth mentioning that the benefits have a direct correlation with health care costs. In one study published last year in Health Behavior Policy Review which followed 149 Silver Sneakers participants for one year, they found that participants incurred a total health care cost savings of $319,456 over the control group. In other words, participants cost $2,144/year less than nonparticipants. Furthermore, the study showed that for each additional class attended, there was an additional $22 decrease in annual health care costs.

The YMCA of the Triangle have been gathering their own results over the last eight years, when they began introducing more programming targeted towards improving health. Participants in their 12-week “Moving for better balance” classes reduced their fall risk by 55% per the Centers for Disease Control. Participants over 65 that participate in Diabetes Prevention Program and lose 5% of their body weight can decrease the incidence of developing type 2 diabetes by 71%, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

To build on their findings, the YMCA of the Triangle launched a Medical Membership program in 2018. With a physician referral—usually because of a health diagnosis, such as pre-diabetes, adult weight management, cancer or the risk of falls due to age or illness, participants not only get full access to facilities, membership and evidence based programs the YMCA provides, they also meet with a health coach who assesses their status at start, helps them set goals, identifies the best programming to meet those goals, and then measures their results along the way. The Y
also reports these results back to the participant’s physician.

In the case of Dr. Fischer’s patients, not only does he receive these results, he and his wife Liz, the business manager of his practice, are right there in class with their patients. One story Dr. Fischer likes to tell involves an early participant. “He was someone who liked his Dr.
Pepper and cigarettes and didn’t see himself as someone who would go to the Y.”

Never-the-less, this patient enrolled, lost a considerable amount of weight, and the next year he was running marathons.

“He even biked all the way to my clinic in Raleigh from Durham one day,” Dr. Fischer said.

Last spring, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC awarded the YMCA $1.5 Million to support and further develop the Y’s Medical Membership program, which is also partnering with the NC Medical Society and the National Y’s Clinical Integration Support Team. BCBSNC beneficiaries can receive a YMCA medical membership for $25/month if they qualify.

Last year, when interviewing life-long geriatrician Dr. Parsons, he said the first prescription he gives every client at their annual physical is for exercise. “It’s more effective than any pill.”

Wondering whether you, your wife or parent might be eligible for either of these programs? Go to: Silver Sneakers or review the Triangle YMCA's Medical Membership Program.

This article is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina.

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