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The Downtown Family YMCA is at 301 W. 6th St. in Chattanooga. / Photo by Allison Shirk Collins

A recent announcement that Tennessee YMCAs will cut their partnership with SilverSneakers has left some 10,000 seniors in the program statewide wondering where they will find affordable exercise and activities.

SilverSneakers, a national fitness program for seniors which has long provided free access to the 44 YMCA locations across the state for those 65 and older, has been cut by Tennessee YMCAs after the two organizations failed to come to a payment agreement despite six months of negotiations.

"The decision to withdraw from SilverSneakers was not a quick one or a desired one. Make no mistake: this decision will have a negative financial impact on our YMCAs and cause confusion for seniors in the short term," the Tennessee Alliance of YMCAs said in a statement late last month. "However, that short term impact will be much easier to weather than a long-term relationship with SilverSneakers, which would impair the Y's ability to serve seniors, kids and families. The Y will work very hard to make sure that all seniors have an opportunity to continue to enjoy the services and the social interaction at the Y that has made it such a treasured place for seniors to spend time."

Though SilverSneakers has partnerships with hundreds of other gyms in the state, including Gold's Gym, Planet Fitness and several local community gyms, some participants feel displaced by the decision.

some text The Downtown Family YMCA is at 301 W. 6th St. in Chattanooga. / Photo by Allison Shirk Collins

"I was shocked. I couldn't imagine an organization that is based supposedly on Christian philosophy would choose to turn its back on the senior citizens that use it," participant Joe Rictor said. "It's going to mean that a lot of older citizens are without a gym to stay healthy."

Rictor, who has been exercising at an East Tennessee YMCA for nearly three years since he became eligible for the program, said changing gyms will have a harder impact on the older community than it would most.

"The Y says they'll have new senior programs before the program ends in January, but that means we're going to have to pay for memberships and lose the free benefit that we currently have, and so many older people are on extremely fixed incomes and won't be able to afford to stay at their gym," Rictor said. "And a lot of older people can't get around, that's the problem with the other locations. Some people cannot drive and some won't be able to start going to a new gym at all, which will have an impact on their health."

More Info

To find a gym, fitness class or active seniors group for SilverSneakers participants, visit tools.silversneakers.com/LocationSearch

Rictor also said that the value of a healthy gym environment for seniors goes beyond fitness.

"At the time I go to work out, a majority of the people in there are older," he said. "We come to make friends and have conversations and just get out in a way that older people can. Once we get used to a gym and equipment and we make friends, it's going to be really tough on some people to find a new place and, for others, it's going to be impossible."

While the YMCA will no longer partner with SilverSneakers in Tennessee after Jan. 1, 2020, more than 400 other locations will support the program statewide.

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at staylor@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6416. Follow her on Twitter @sarahgtaylor.

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