SilverSneakers benefits more than just health


Lilian Kolodziej, the instructor, leads her SilverSneakers class in an exercise on Friday, April 29, 2016. The group meets every Friday morning for cardio and weight lifting workouts.

Brianna Figley

When Harold Williams, an emeritus professor of economics, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he knew his life was going to change. Exercise was not only recommended, it was a necessity. He turned to the university’s Healthways SilverSneakers Fitness Program, which offered Williams and his wife, Dorothy, an exercise outlet and community to look out for them.

Williams and his wife came to Kent State in 1966. He had just finished his doctorate and began teaching economics at the College of Business Administration—where he also served as the associate dean of graduate and international programs. Dorothy, meanwhile, was studying for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The couple joined SilverSneakers when it first started at Kent State in 2008 and have been regular participants ever since.

“With my condition, it is extremely important that I exercise every single day,” Williams said. “We are here basically every day of the week … three of those days we are at a class for the SilverSneakers program. They have great instructors there and it is nice to have a program that emphasizes stretching and working on my balance. Also, it is great to know that someone is there to catch me if I fall.”

SilverSneakers meets on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. During this time, members engage like cardiovascular exercise classes and water aerobics in the the Student Recreation and Wellness Center’s pool (SWRC).

The organization currently has more than 1,070 members enrolled through the Rec Center, with an average of 4,000 total visits each month. Members choose which classes they want to participate in throughout the week. Most members have health insurance that covers their membership fee.

On a typical Friday morning class, about 40 members participated in variations of cardio, strength training and stretching exercises. Stretching bands are used to create resistance for shoulder and back exercises, free weights to strengthen arms and wrists and a small exercise ball are used while members sit in a chair to do various abdominal exercises and to work on the flexibility of their knees and ankles.

“It is not an easy class,” said Dottie Emerick, a member of SilverSneakers. “It got our heart rates up and got us moving and motivated to start the day.”

SilverSneakers provides not just a physical benefit for members, but also a social environment. Members meet with each other outside of the program’s classes routinely for lunch dates and other activities such as hiking and walking trails with other couples and participants. 

“It has become a family; a SilverSneakers family,” Emerick said. “If someone is not there we know we need to check in on them. It gets us out and makes us get up in the morning and do something. It is good for us, and it is keeping us all healthy.”

Emerick and her husband, Tom, started coming to SilverSneakers shortly after the Williams. Both were born and raised in Kent and studied at Kent State. They love the opportunity to stay involved with Kent State and the community. Emerick emphasized how much the program keeps all of them healthier so they can participate in other aspects of the city and university.

The program has been known to accommodate members with special needs, as Emerick recently experienced.

Emerick had surgery on her ankle and is now unable to put weight on it for eight weeks. Her SilverSneakers instructor  has worked with her so she is still able to participate and stay active in the program. However, SilverSneakers has done more for the Emericks than just provide a fun place to work out.

“The first winter that we did SilverSneakers, we found out that Tom had a heart condition,” Emerick said. “If it weren’t for (the program), we might not have known about it ‘til it was too late. He ended up having a quad bypass, (but) he is still here. SilverSneakers saved his life.”

David and Mary Reith are another couple who regularly attend SilverSneakers classes. The couple met the Williams about ten years ago at the university’s field house, where they used to walk together.

“He’s a champion runner,” David said about Williams. “He always ran circles around me. He’s just an amazing guy.”

Abby Millsaps, marketing coordinator for Kent State’s Recreational Service, is proud of what SilverSneakers has brought to SWRC.

“SilverSneakers opens our doors to a broader audience,” Milsaps said. “It allows us to serve people you don’t normally see on a college campus. Although there are hundreds of SilverSneakers facilities across the country, we offer something special at the SWRC because we’ve fostered a welcoming, caring environment with our participants. The program is beneficial because it supports physical fitness goals and provides a social opportunity for its members.”

Lilian Kolodziej has been teaching the SilverSneakers classes since 2008. 

“SilverSneakers is meant for people to gain strength, agility, balance, flexibility and—of course—to have fun and make friends,” Kolodziej said. “Some of these people have lost loved ones and continue to come here because this program provides a great outlet and a reliable social life. They all look out for each other and genuinely love coming here.”

The Williams couple make it a priority to stay involved in the university, not only with the SilverSneakers program, but in other organizations as well.

“We are members of the Retired Faculty (Association) the (Chatham-Kent) Parkinson’s Support Group and I am a member of University Women,” Dorothy said. “The two of us feel a great need to stay involved in not just the university, but also the Kent community that we have grown to love.”

“Everything we knew is in Kent,” Hal said. “Our friends were here and we knew about the hospitals in the area, which is something we had to look for at our age. Everything just worked out for us to be here. I think what’s extremely important for all of us getting involved at the university and knowing each other for so many years is the sense of history and the sense of development. We know where we have come from, what we have done and what we can do.”

Millsaps also stressed how important it is for the SRWC to reach out to not just students, but the entire community.

“The mission of the Department of Recreational Services aims to promote health and wellness opportunities for all the people we serve, whether that’s a toddler taking swimming lessons for the first time or an active older adult participating in SilverSneakers,” Milsaps said. “It is important for the SWRC to serve not only Kent State students, but for the entire community, regardless of an individual’s age or level of fitness.”

Brianna Figley is a health reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].