With health an ever-growing priority for aging baby boomers, it’s no surprise that programs dedicated specifically to fitness for seniors are popping up on the curricula of gyms nationwide.
Here are some tips to help baby boomers find a gym that caters to their needs:
Try before you buy. Most gyms and programs offer free trials, so take advantage of the guest pass to sample the offerings before committing to a contract.
Assess your comfort level. Tour the gym and confirm you’re comfortable with everything from the locker rooms to the other clientele. Large gyms with mostly younger members with bulging muscles in tight clothing can intimidate seniors, says Sheldon S. Zinberg, MD, who founded the 50-plus-only gyms, Nifty After Fifty.
Identify senior-specific programs. Some gyms offer just a few senior exercise courses, while others take a more holistic approach, providing mental fitness activities and social programs, in addition to physical fitness classes.
“Most of our seniors come to the YMCA for more than just their workout,” says Caroline Brown, health and wellness director of the YMCA in Marysville, Wash. “It’s about building relationships and having a place to go to have coffee, work out and have fun.”
Ask if personal trainers are available. “You need to have a customized program, not just a gym membership,” says Dr. Zinberg. If your gym doesn’t offer free one-on-one sessions with a trainer, consider splurging for a few sessions with someone who has specific training in senior fitness, so you can be sure you’re performing the activities correctly and at the right levels to minimize the risk of injury.
Be sure classes are well-rounded. For seniors, programs should focus not just on cardio or strength training, but work on flexibility and balance as well. “Balance degrades as we get older, but we can maintain and often improve balance if we work at it,” says Becky Williamson, owner of lifeSport Fitness in San Jose, Calif.
Look for classes that meet real-life goals. “A program that’s just to get in shape may be hard to stick to because it doesn’t have value that you can see,” says Arleen Cauchi, founder of Boomer Fitness. “You need to see how it improves your life, so you can compete in a sport you love, or just that you're able to keep up with your grandkids and be able to get up and down on the floor with them.”