Top 4 Things Your SilverSneakers Instructor Wants You to Know About Exercise

By K. Aleisha Fetters, C.S.C.S. |

SilverSneakers trainer Stephanie Barry packs 40 years of experience into four must-know fitness lessons. 

SilverSneakers instructor Stephanie Barry

Experience brings wisdom. And SilverSneakers instructor Stephanie Barry has more than 40 years of training under her belt.

During that time, Barry has garnered certifications to teach more than a dozen types of exercise, including tai chi, kettlebell training, Pilates, TRX suspension training, and aquatics.

“I always want to learn more and grow,” Barry says. After all, exercise sciences and styles have come a long way since she taught her first class in 1983.

In other words, Barry is a treasure trove of workout wisdom. Here’s what she shared when asked to boil it down to four must-know fitness lessons for older adults.

Fitness Lesson #1: Fit People Come in Every Shape and Size
“When I first got into taking group fitness classes, it was all about weight management,” Barry says. “I saw family members around me struggle with excess weight, and I didn’t want to follow in their footsteps.”

Once Barry became a regular in fitness classes, one thing became clear: “I started looking around and realized that really fit people come in every shape and size,” she says. “Being fit isn’t a look.”

Barry encourages people to think about fitness as the physical ability to live the life you want to lead, to have energy, and to enjoy your body’s natural knack for movement. Goals that focus on improving strength, endurance, mobility, immunity, and even brain health are so much more important than looking a certain way, she says.

If losing weight is one of your fitness goals, that’s fine. But it’s also fine if it’s not.

Fitness Lesson #2: Age and Disease Aren’t Barriers to Exercise
Sometimes the oldest adults or those managing one or more health conditions reap the biggest benefits from exercise, Barry says. “I get to talk to people on a daily basis for whom exercise has literally saved their lives.”

Barry recalls several examples, including John, who went from using a walker to running a 5K within three years; and Linda, who initially came to class in a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis but eventually gained more mobility and independence.

Barry’s advice: Don’t focus on what you can’t do right now or the limitations you have in your workouts. Instead, focus on what you might be able to do one day, thanks to taking good care of your body with safe exercise.

Not sure what safe exercise means for you? Check in with your doctor before starting any new workout program.

Fitness Lesson #3: Challenges Make You Stronger—Physically and Mentally
“I’ve learned that when people overcome physical barriers, they are stronger in life in general,” Barry says.

But physical and mental growth doesn’t always come easy. “Some parts are uncomfortable, and you aren’t going to immediately be good at everything we do in class,” Barry says. “Change requires some challenges.

When you’re just getting started with any new workout, it’s important to build a solid foundation and feel confident in what you’re doing. Once you’re comfortable, it’s time to increase the challenge, Barry says.

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In strength training, for example, “we want to get to the point when the last three or four repetitions are very difficult,” she says. If you feel like you could easily do a few more reps at the end of a set, it’s time to use heavier weights.

Just remember, pushing yourself should never cause pain. Check out our guide to choosing the right weight for you to stay in the safe (and strong) zone.

Fitness Lesson #4: Attitude Is Everything—and It Starts with Enjoying Your Workout
A commitment to fitness takes the right mindset—one that’s not afraid to work hard, have fun, and just let loose, Barry says. And it’s much easier to do that when you truly enjoy your workout.

Barry sees this firsthand in some of her classes, especially those that involve dancing. Some of her older students loved to dance when they were younger, and they’re still great at it today. “They have agility, coordination, and know how to ‘cha-cha-cha,’” she says. “I can throw so much choreography their way.”

If you haven’t yet found a workout that gets you excited to move, keep looking, Barry says. “There are so many different forms of exercise and group fitness classes, and when you find the right one for you—well, that’s when true fitness happens.”

Take Your Favorite SilverSneakers Classes Online!
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