After transforming their bodies and lives, they decided to help others do the same. Here are their top tips.
Think it’s too late to embrace fitness? Think again!
These seven men and women not only transformed themselves after age 60, but now they’re spending their post-retirement years as SilverSneakers instructors, helping others stay active and enjoy healthier, longer lives.
While each person’s path was different, all found similar rewards from being part of the SilverSneakers community: new friends, stronger bodies, and a greater sense of well-being. Here’s what they learned along the way.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity and space.
Rosemary Nichols, 78, Portland, Oregon
Became SilverSneakers-certified at 75
My story: My fitness journey began at age 71, when I joined a gym in order to do Zumba Gold classes. I enjoyed the time with my instructor and fellow classmates, but I also wanted to be able to use the machines in the gym. I was overwhelmed by the array of equipment and feared I would hurt myself if I didn’t learn how to use it properly, so I got a personal trainer.
He changed my life. I went from a deconditioned old lady in size 14 jeans to a fit size two. I lost nearly 29 pounds with the help of his coaching in nutrition and doing exercises with heavier weights than we used in class. Within the first year of working with him, we also got rid of my heart murmur. In the next couple of years, I was off my blood pressure meds.
Occasionally, we didn’t have a sub for senior classes, so my trainer suggested I get certified and start teaching. I was 75 years old at the time, and I became a personal trainer with a National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) certification. I chose to become a group exercise instructor so I could reach more than 100 people per week versus training fewer people one-on-one.
My favorite part: Making a difference in my students’ lives by training them to become stronger, happier, and more mobile. It’s very rewarding when a student tells me how happy his doctor is with his increased range of motion since he’s been taking my classes.
Others have said they no longer experience pain in various parts of their bodies and that I inspire them to come to class regularly. Some people have even said they want to be like me when they grow up.
My #1 health tip: Exercise in some form daily—walking, gardening, swimming, exercising with resistance (using your body’s own weight, dumbbells, or exercise bands) to preserve muscle mass and bone health. Share these experiences with others for social activity and mental well-being.
Ed Benarth, 69, Brunswick, Ohio
Became SilverSneakers-certified at 67
My story: I was a computer and printer field service engineer for roughly 40 years. After I retired, I signed up for SilverSneakers at the Brunswick Recreation Center. At that time, there was only one instructor, and she was young with a family. When her kids got sick, she would stay home, and three of us would try to lead the class rather than send everyone home.
I asked the manager what it would take to become certified to properly conduct the SilverSneakers classes. And the rest is history.
My favorite part: Watching how these classes bring everyone alive and seeing the progress they—and I—make while also making new friends. Being an instructor has also taught me how to take better care of my body.
SilverSneakers is unlike anything I have ever encountered—to be able to get in shape or stay in shape, knowing that everyone in the classes has the same objective, and to have fun with all these wonderful seniors. I hope to be instructing for a long time. I would not trade it for anything.
My #1 health tip: Stay active in both body and mind! (To help with both, try these four exercises that buff up your brain.)
Elise Karras, 66, New York City
Became a certified personal trainer at 63
My story: I earned my personal training certification when I was 63. I’d been a gerontological social worker for many years, so I consistently witnessed how a lack of regular exercise led to a rapid decline in people’s physical and emotional health. It was particularly evident when a client was receiving physical therapy at home after a fall or other setback.
My vision was to earn my certification and work with the physical therapist to seamlessly continue with the client once physical therapy ended. My own lifelong love of movement and activity also drew me to the fitness field. I’m still working as a licensed master social worker, doing home visits to homebound elderly.
My favorite part: People are often isolated as they get older. Being a group fitness instructor brings people together for exercise, fun, and camaraderie. My favorite part of being a Silversneakers instructor is seeing my members improve in their movements, balance, strength, and flexibility. I also love the joy and fun they show when attending my group fitness classes.
My #1 health tip: Just move a muscle. That’s all it takes to get on the path toward better health and functioning.
More specifically, try mastering the squat exercise. It’s the single most important movement we do in the gym. (Find out why the squat is so good for you and how to do them for your body, including how to do them in a seated position using a chair.)
Mollie Dinwiddie, 68, Warrensburg, Missouri
Became SilverSneakers-certified at 67
My story: My primary career involved working in three different academic libraries over 36 years. I completed 12 years as dean of library services at the University of Central Missouri in 2015. I decided to become a SilverSneakers instructor when the woman who had been teaching all the classes had a health problem. I was 67 and had been teaching Zumba Gold and Zumba Toning classes at our local community center, so I volunteered to get the SilverSneakers licensing.
Teaching fitness classes has finally made me commit to regular workouts—both in class as the instructor and outside of class as a student. I have lost a few pounds, lowered my blood pressure, increased my ability to sustain exercise for longer periods of time, and increased my flexibility and balance. It is truly win-win for me!
My favorite part: My interaction with my students and the variety of things we do to move the body. I enjoy the tools we employ and find it really fun to try new moves I see on the SilverSneakers Facebook page.
My #1 health tip: Keep moving for as long as you can, but also always listen to the messages your body is giving you. (Check out these six pains you should never ignore).
Sandra Prince, 66, Brooklyn, Ohio
Became SilverSneakers-certified at 60
My story: Our recreation department did not have a SilverSneakers program and wanted to add one for the senior members. At the time, I was voluntarily leading an aerobics class after our instructor retired. When the manager asked if I would be interested in teaching water aerobics, I jumped at the chance. One year later, with certificates in SilverSneakers Splash, Yoga, Muscle Strength and Range of Movement (MSROM), and Arthritis Aquatics, I was on my way. I had previously worked for 38 years in the retail industry, and here I was embarking on a new career.
Being an instructor has helped me stay active. I feel great physically and mentally, and I truly love inspiring others. I would tell anyone who wanted to become an instructor to give it a try. It’s a rewarding experience for everyone involved!
My favorite part: Hearing my participants tell me how much better they’re feeling and how much fun they’re having. I love teaching seniors because everyone deserves to live an active, healthy, and fit life.
My #1 health tip: Just keep moving! It keeps you young. (If that’s not motivation enough for you, here are 17 more ways exercise improves your life.)
Lynne Von Egidy, 66, New York City
Became SilverSneakers-certified at 59
My story: Many years ago, I trained as a ballet dancer and danced in a modern dance company. I then worked as a senior paralegal for more than 30 years, during which time I was always a gym rat. After the recession in 2010, I was laid off my paralegal job. At that point, I was 59 and thought it was too late for me to become a group exercise instructor.
All my friends and teachers encouraged me to do it, so I became a personal trainer and group exercise instructor through the Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). Getting laid off was awful, but I’m happier now than I ever was as a paralegal.
My favorite part: When people tell me that I brighten their day and make them happy. Being fit is important, but so is being happy. A lady came up to me yesterday and said, “I can’t tell you how much better I feel. I so look forward to these classes. It’s made such a difference.” It makes their day happier and my day happier too.
My #1 health tip: There’s an old expression in fitness: No pain, no gain. But that’s why a lot of us are injured today. I always tell my SilverSneakers groups to change that idea: “No pain, no pain.” Effort is good, but not if you’re in pain. Modify or don’t do it. (Check out our guide to five basic rules of exercise modifications that all older adults should know.)
Ann Blackburn, 74, Dayton, Tennessee
Became SilverSneakers-certified at 66
My story: I stumbled into becoming a fitness instructor, because there wasn’t anyone for the SilverSneakers program at our local YMCA. I was asked to consider getting certified. I was a single woman who had no aspirations of leading an exercise class, but after committing to taking the leadership position, I met so many new friends.
It’s also been great for my health. I’ve had two hip replacements and was released from the hospital early due to being in shape, which is all thanks to working out in the SilverSneakers program.
My favorite part: The most exciting thing is to watch as my students strengthen their bodies, lay down down their canes, use heavier weights, and change their lives. I lead classes three times per week. Every other month, we celebrate the birthdays for those months. Our group has grown from 12 to about 75! They are loyal and very consistent, coming for the workout as well as the social aspect.
My #1 health tip: I would encourage any and all seniors to become a part of a SilverSneakers group! You will form so many new friendships, take day trips, go for lunch or coffee, and just feel so much better emotionally as well as physically by getting up and moving.