Medicare plans help blaze a fitness trail

Medicare plans help blaze a fitness trail

A recent research study shows that while the exercise habits of young to middle-age people are on the decline, older adults are doing the opposite.

According to the study, people 65 and older have been averaging 100 more minutes of weekly activity than those in the preceding age group. This assessment is bolstered by a survey of participants in SilverSneakers Fitness, an exercise program for older adults: 83 percent of program participants engaging in aerobic activity three or more times per week; three or more times weekly participation was also high for muscle strengthening (65 percent) and flexibility exercises (49 percent).

Jamie Needham, chief marketing officer of Ensurem, a Florida-based insurance technology and product distribution firm, noted that while seniors clearly know the health benefits of regular physical activity, “they may not be aware that a diversity of exercise and health-support programs are available to them—sometimes at no extra charge—from many Medicare plans.”

Original Medicare largely restricts its coverage to purely medical matters. For example, Needham said, for a beneficiary with diabetes (which affects 27 percent of the over-65 population), Original Medicare only covers a once-per-lifetime health behavior change program. On the other hand, many Medicare Advantage plans will cover gym memberships at no extra charge, along with programs like My Plate (a nutrition guide published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), Eat Right (a program of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics), and SilverSneakers.

Regular physical activity may help prevent or delay many of the health problems common in older adults, but many Medicare Advantage and Medicare Supplement Insurance plans also offer other no-cost benefits to help seniors stay healthy, like health education seminars, wellness events, and food delivery.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal program that administers Medicare, lists 10 major chronic conditions affecting older people: Hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, ischemic/coronary heart disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, heart failure, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. According to CMS, 80 percent of Americans over 65 suffer from at least one of these conditions, and 68 percent suffer from two or more.

“Regular exercise and a sensible diet won’t solve these conditions, but they can positively affect our physical health—and our emotional well-being—in many ways,” said Denise Austin, a nationally known fitness expert. “Our goal—and I’m older now too, so I speak from experience—is to live the life we have as well as possible.”

To do that, seniors need support from each other, their medical care providers, fitness programs, and their insurers, Needham asserted. “You need a team,” she said, “and that should include your doctors as well as your Medicare plan provider.”

Pilates is a beneficial form of exercise for all ages.


Pilates is a form of exercise that offers benefits for all ages. But many people aren’t familiar with it or what it can do for their physical fitness. Here’s what they might be missing:

  • Created by Joseph Pilates, a New York City fitness instructor from 1926 to 1966, the system focuses on lung capacity and circulation, bone density and joint health, posture, abdominal strength, and body awareness, promoting better sleep.
  • In the February 2022 issue of European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology, and Education, researchers reported Pilates can help older adults in particular with dynamic balance, strength, mobility, functional capacity, reducing risk of falling, and mental and psychological health.
  • Pilates can strengthen and heal following injuries, accidents, and surgeries. The exercises can help people get back to where they need to be or achieve a new level of physical fitness.