Participant Stories

Retired Dentist Believes Healthy Bodies Bring Healthy Smiles


When Yvonne Hanley retired after 40 years as a dentist, she went from filling cavities in Fergus Falls, MN, to filling people’s lives with a program known for improving health.

Yvonne Hanley, Juniper leaderFeedback from participants in her Juniper SAIL (Stay Active and Independent for Life) class shows that Yvonne is still providing care that leads to healthy smiles, but now also healthier bodies. What are people saying?

“I feel stronger when doing my daily tasks.”

“I had back pain that was keeping me awake at night, now it’s gone.”

“I can keep up with my 6-year-old grandson better than I could in the past.”

SAIL is a strength, balance and fitness program for older adults and others who might be interested. Yvonne’s class meets 24 times over a period of eight weeks. Performing exercises that improve strength, balance and fitness is the single most important activity adults can do to stay active and independent.

As a SAIL instructor, Yvonne combines experience as a dentistry teacher with her skills for encouraging and motivating students. “When I was in high school, there was no Title 9, so there were no women’s sports,” says Yvonne. “As a result, many women my age aren’t comfortable in a gym because they think they have to get in shape first. I wanted to change that. Now, in one hour, three times a week, I can help 20 people.”

Yvonne Hanley leading a Juniper SAIL class on Zoom

Yvonne’s gym is the bonus room in her home that she uses as an exercise studio, and people enter via Zoom, making it accessible to all because it’s easy to get to class. “One of my students uses a walker, and it was exhausting for her to get in and out of her car and in and out of the YMCA to participate in class. Participating online allows her to put her energy into making progress in class.” Yvonne admits that some of the people in her class weren’t familiar with how to utilize Zoom, but they reached out to friends and grandchildren for help, and now they’re up and running.

Yvonne Hanley talking about leading SAIL classCompelled to help people be healthier, Yvonne sets an example with her own commitment to exercise. She says, “Dentistry was physically grueling, so I worked out every night so I could continue to do my job, and I continue to work out. I’ve taken fitness classes, worked with a personal trainer and I lift weights. I know that when I build muscle, my bones become stronger to support the muscle, and I believe the research that says weight training can be more effective than medication in reversing osteoporosis.” The use of weights is encouraged in Yvonne’s SAIL class, beginning with one-pound weights, and working up to five. She says, “One participant said that her kids say they can see the muscle in her arms and legs.” Yvonne also knows that exercise increases the level of endorphins in the body. “It’s one of the best things you can do to improve your mood and it became more apparent during Covid when people were sheltering in place at home.”

As Yvonne’s SAIL class continues to provide a benefit for class members, they continue to come to class, even when not in Fergus Falls, logging on from wherever they are. One participant recently joined from Greece where she is working with refugees. Yvonne recruited a lot of the people in her class and now they are recruiting their friends. She says, “People see the difference SAIL is making in their life, and they want others to experience it.”

The educational part of Yvonne’s class provides time for conversation and sharing experiences.

One member wanted to talk about how to safely walk her dog and prevent being pulled over as the dog pulled on the leash. Another discussion focused on the use of walking sticks and winter cleats on boots in the winter. Yvonne says, “It’s good to talk about and apply what we’re doing in class to everyday life experiences.” She also finds it rewarding to see testimonials like this one from one of her students, “I lost my balance one day and instead of falling, I was able to catch myself.”

Yvonne encourages all Minnesotans over 65 to take a SAIL class, regardless of your level of fitness. “You’ve got to start somewhere,” she says. “It’s a very efficient one-hour work out, and you can work at your own pace. Start at the level you are now and try to get better.” Working hard and getting better has worked well for Yvonne who now holds a national record in power lifting in her age category!

Find an upcoming SAIL class or learn about other Juniper classes.

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