For about the past 20 years, the baby boom fitness market has been slowly growing. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association, older adults are hitting gyms and health clubs at record rates. The group says the number of health club members over 55 grew by 343 percent from 1987 to 2003, while the number of members in the 35-54 age group increased by 180 percent. Those numbers are expected to continue to increase.
Trend-watchers attribute much of baby boomers’ interest in physical fitness (the same generation that once believed "never trust anyone over 30") to their determination not to grow old. Boomers want a better quality of life, they want to be active in their later years and they realize that being fit helps accomplish that goal. Lisa Williams, broker/owner of Williams & Associates Realty, is one of many Milwaukeeans who has bought into the notion of physical fitness as a means to ensuring longevity and a better quality of life. The busy realtor has a hectic professional life that can be stressful and sometimes has her burning a candle at both ends. She is committed, however, to making room in her schedule for the ‘down’ time that she needs to take care of herself.
“On a daily basis I try to stretch and walk up and down steps. I also do some cardio exercise at least five days a week. I enjoy Zumba, so I try to take in a class at least once a week. I’d like to do that more because Zumba incorporates so many arm and leg muscles, but usually my schedule doesn’t allow for it,” said Williams.
Indeed, studies show the merits of an active lifestyle. For example, research recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that inactivity doubles the risk of mobility limitations as we age, while vigorous activity has the opposite effect. In another study, published in the Journal of Neurology, doctors found that exercise can slow cognitive declines -- meaning our minds can stay sharper longer with physical exercise.
"No matter what area you look to, be it heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, research shows that being physically fit into your senior years will keep you healthier and active longer," says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist at the American Council on Exercise. Williams didn’t commit to a regular exercise routine due to any personal health concerns, but because there is a history of diabetes in her family, she opted to proactively take control of her health. “I’m not on any medications. My health is good and, as we get older, we do tend to develop illnesses that may prevent us from being as active as we like, but I try to keep moving. “ I take the stairs instead of the elevators. If I travel, I try to find hotels that have gyms or exercise rooms, and I drink healthy smoothies and protein shakes, and take ginger root to help with my digestive system,” she said.
According to Web MD, baby boomers are running to the gyms and other places to get in their workouts. Some are using personal trainers, others rely on the buddy system to encourage each other to get their workouts in, and still others— through personal experience—have experienced, first-hand, the benefits of exercise and are making it part of their lifestyle. In addition to her daily exercise routine, Williams also uses a personal trainer at Elite Sports Club, the facility where she works out three to four times a week.
“I try to mix up my exercise routine. It motivates me to get the advice and encouragement of a personal trainer. I don’t like the large gyms where hundreds of people are working out. I like to go at my own pace and be able to get on the workout machines without waiting,” she said. Like Williams, more and more adults, 50 and older, are taking preventive steps to ensure they are healthy. In addition to physical activity, they are eating better, exercising and scheduling the necessary screenings to proactively combat health issues. Combined, these important steps can prevent many of the health problems that sometimes come with age. Some physical activity is better than none. While 150 minutes of exercise each week sounds like a lot of time, it is not. It amounts to 2 hours and 30 minutes; about the same amount of time you might spend watching a movie. The good news is that you can spread the 150 minutes of exercise over the course of the week, so you do not have to do it all at once. You can even break it up into smaller chunks of time during the day. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 10 minutes of exercise at a time is fine. Your exercise routine should be about what works best for you, as long as you are doing physical activity at a moderate or vigorous effort for at least 10 minutes at a time.
Milwaukee offers a variety of opportunities for individuals 50 and older to become active. The Interfaith Older Adult Program, which is funded by the Milwaukee County Department on Aging, offers a variety of programs and workshops to get and keep older adults active and socially engaged. The centers offer everything from Tai Chi, yoga classes, get fit classes, low impact aerobics, dart ball, dance and a myriad of other activities. The centers are open to anyone 50 + years of age and are free, but some classes may require a nominal registration fee. Personal training is also available for a nominal fee. For more information about the Interfaith Older Adult Programs and classes, call 414.291.7500 or visit the website at http://home.interfaithmilw.org/fun to request additional information.