Sneakers that Touch the Heart

By Micki Schaffer

What is the secret to staying active throughout life? What inspires us to exercise and keep going over the years? Motivation for exercise can come from a number of sources. Sometimes it can be a wedding, class reunion or trip to the beach. Other times, motivation can come from a health scare or advice from a physician. Then there are some who seem to not need any external motivation. What drives them is from within. Exercise has become a habit and requires no more effort than other daily tasks.
SilverSneakers is a type of fitness that not only improves health, but also improves the lives of everyone it touches. SilverSneakers is the nation’s leading exercise program designed exclusively for older adults. Every day extraordinary women in their “silver” years find the time and energy to make being healthy a priority. Each story is touching and inspiring. Some have survived cancer, heart disease, injuries or the loss of a spouse yet remain positive and actively engaged with life. Others are simply trying to maintain health and independence so they can continue to live each day to the fullest. The women featured in this article have agreed to share their secrets of staying active over the years.
Norma Shultz 
Norma Shultz is an member of the Fit for Life fitness center in Faribault, Minnesota. Sheila Rolling, owner and manager, recommended Norma as a woman with an extraordinary commitment to exercise and fitness challenges. 
Norma looks and acts much younger than her 73 years. Fitness, for her, is “not an effort.” She dedicates herself to learning and practicing various healthy activities, especially reading current magazines and books on the topic. Fitness is not something she has to do but rather something she wants to do.
Growing up, Norma lived in the country so she was always active. When she worked as a nurse, she would bike ten miles to and from work each day. During her lunch break she walked with friends and co-workers. In 2000, she lost her husband and decided she needed something new to help her meet people and stay active. She joined Fit for Life and began using the weight machines and exercise equipment. When SilverSneakers started, she participated in the classes and appreciated the variety of exercises and the fun atmosphere.
In addition to exercising daily, Norma volunteers to care for three children ages 3, 5 and 7 years old several days each week and feels that she has inspired both the children and their parents to add in healthy habits.
Last September, Norma and a group of friends, traveled to Colorado to climb Pikes Peak. They started out at 10,000 feet and climbed to 14,000 feet. Norma said that this was definitely one of her fitness highlights. She is also proud to be a member of the Faribault Flyers bike and ski club, an active group that bikes and cross country skis.
Norma is living proof that some form of intentional physical activity each day will become a habit that our minds and bodies want to do.
Connie Schnepf
Connie Schnepf is a SilverSneakers instructor at the Osceola Community Wellness and Rehab Center located in Sibley, Iowa, a northwest Iowa town with a population of approximately 2,600. This facility is attached to the local hospital and has a huge impact on the health and well-being of many people in the surrounding area. A partnership with Polar Heart Rate Monitors allows all members of the fitness center to wear a Polar Heart Rate monitor at all times.
Connie turned 60 in April but has been active for the past 25 years. After both of her parents suffered heart problems, she started doing aerobics and walking regularly. She now teaches at least three classes each week.
Connie relates well to the members, getting to know them and making sure they feel welcome. She is then able to correlate the exercise routine to activities of daily living. She believes that if you make time for fitness in your daily routine, your body will get used to it and you’ll crave it each day.
When asked her “secret” to staying young, Connie replies, “Staying active almost everyday helps you stay young. Having a strong body, good flexibility and range of movement are just some of the benefits.” Besides doing something every day, the key to making fitness fun is doing activities with a group and trying different things. The group atmosphere provides camaraderie and friendship, while doing a variety of activities keeps them motivated and prevents boredom. Her class participants have experienced weight loss, improved mobility and reduced pain. In addition to teaching her classes, Connie likes to golf and play bridge.
After adding exercise each day, Connie realizes it was something she not only needs, but something she likes to do. Teaching aerobics provides an opportunity for her to share the benefits of exercise. Connie’s commitment to keeping her own heart healthy touches the hearts of many others.
Harriet Richards  
Located in Fairmont, Minnesota is another SilverSneakers location. Tyler Horkey, manager of MC Fitness, believes that Harriet Richards is another example of an “inspiring woman.” Harriet has lived in Fairmont for about a year and a half. Before moving to Fairmont, she lived in Trimont, Minnesota, where she and her husband walked around the lake each day. However, she became bored with the same activity. After moving to Fairmont, Harriet saw an advertisement for senior exercise at the local fitness center and decided to join.
Harriet and her husband attend the fitness center about three times each week. Twice weekly, they participate in SilverSneakers classes. Harriet looks forward to attending because, “The classes are fun and there is always laughter! The instructor, Tyler, always makes us smile.” Exercising in a group is a great way to reduce boredom and to meet new people. On days when there is no class, Harriet and her husband work out on the elliptical trainers, treadmills and other exercise equipment. She says, “It is fun to use the machines. You can keep track of what you are doing and try to do better each time.”
At age 78, Harriet insists that there is no secret for staying active, she simply “needs” exercise. Exercise, to Harriet, is not work, it is fun! Exercise gives her energy that lasts the day. After her exercise sessions she feels like she can “go, go, go” all day long, but if she misses exercise, her body reacts slower and doesn’t have as much energy.
Harriet’s other interests are quilting, reading and volunteering at the Salvation Army. She has inspired others to exercise including her family. All of her children and grandchildren enjoy being active.
Harriet’s approach to staying fit does not mean that exercise has to be hard. She keeps herself challenged by varying her routine every day and increasing the number of repetitions of the sets. For example, if she did 15 leg lifts yesterday, she can try to do 20 today. This ongoing “game” is what makes fitness fun for Harriet.
In the quest for the secret to staying active throughout life, there are no secrets. Exercise need not be an awful task that requires too much work, but rather an important part of daily life. Regardless of age, staying fit and active feeds our hearts and spirits and over time may even offer an opportunity to touch others’ hearts with our sneakers!