Silver Sneakers program helps North Fork seniors stay fit

(Credit: Carrie Miller)
Doris Congilio, 67, of Southold. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

Aging gracefully can be described as growing older while still enjoying the activities you love — and the ones that get you by.

But health conditions, falls or accidents can often get in the way of that transition, often resulting in a lack of the physical activity that helps keep body and mind sound.

For Medicare beneficiaries who subscribe to certain supplemental insurance plans, a physical fitness membership is just a phone call or Internet search away, and at no additional cost to their insurance plans.

The program, called Silver Sneakers, is now offered at several gyms across the North Fork. It’s essentially a gym membership and is available through popular Medicare supplement plans including United Healthcare and Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“The benefits of regular exercise cannot be overstated,” said Paul Connor, CEO and president of Eastern Long Island Hospital. “You are never too old to get some form of exercise on a regular basis. Exercise is what we all need to keep going for the best health possible, physically as well as mentally.”

The Greenport hospital began offering the program in November at its physical therapy and fitness location on the North Road in Southold, and more than 35 participants have already signed up.

“They can come whatever day they want, as many days a week as they want, ” said Lori Salmon, manager of ELIH’s Silver Sneakers program. “All it takes is coming to the gym a few days a week to see your function levels increase.”

Andrea Esposito, owner of NOFO Wellness Center in Cutchogue, has offered the program for more than three years. There’s been a recent uptick in beneficiaries interested in the program and she now has 35 members taking advantage, she said, most likely because insurance companies have been notifying plan subscribers about the program.

“I’m glad that people are finally realizing that it is better to keep themselves healthy, because it is so much harder to cure an illness or fix something once it is diagnosed,” Ms. Esposito said. “The hardest part is getting there. Once they are here, we can motivate them.”

Lee Dugan, an instructor with Maximus Health and Fitness in Riverhead, has been teaching classes for the older generation for almost a decade, helping people as young as 65, and as old as 90, remain young.

Participants at the Riverhead gym have the opportunity to take classes designed with a senior’s well-being in mind, using seated exercises and body resistance that can be adapted for all skill levels.

Sitting in her class on a snowy Thursday afternoon, 85-year-old Mel Rosenberg of Riverhead could be seen lifting weights and hitting yoga poses with confidence.

Elaine Schneider, 71, of Greenport. (Credit: Carrie Miller)
Elaine Schneider, 71, of Greenport. (Credit: Carrie Miller)

“I started right after I had a stroke, about seven years ago,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “Now, you have no idea how much I look forward to coming here. When I wake up in the morning I don’t often feel like doing much of anything, but after coming here I feel like I could do it all.”

A couple of seats down, another gentlemen, who didn’t give a name, said the classes are helping him manage the effects of Parkinson’s disease.

“This class is the reason I can still walk,” he said, as he cleaned up the pile of weights and resistance bands he had just put to work.

Upon joining, certified athletic trainers at each of the locations said they meet with participants one on one to design workout plans that meet their individual goals — whether that means improving balance, helping with back or knee pain or improving overall wellness.

“A lot of the exercises we do are basic functions that can help them to weather the storm,” Ms. Esposito said. “They also enjoy the companionship from other members, making it a social experience as well. We also have many couples joining together, as a team.”

Nicole Mohr, a trainer with ELIH, said that some members had never done any of the exercises before, but added that “it is never too late to start.”

“We will work with them, and get them feeling confident,” Ms. Mohr said.  “Even if you walk for 10 minutes, it’s 10 minutes more than yesterday.

“Just like life, we take it one step at a time.”

For more information about the program visit


Maximus Health and Fitness
130 E. Main St.
Riverhead, NY 11901
(631) 369-6293

NOFO Wellness Center
320 Depot Lane
Cutchogue, NY 11935
(631) 734-4042

Eastern Long Island Hospital Physical Therapy & Fitness
46520 North Road
Southold, NY 11971
(631) 765-9389

This story was originally published in the 2015 edition of northforker’s 50 plus magazine