Health Clubs for Newbie Boomers
Learn how to find the best gyms for older adults that want to be active.
Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist
“Finding health clubs that cater to the needs of older adults with age-friendly facilities, equipment, programming and knowledgeable staff can be tricky.”
Study after study has shown that older adults, even those who have been sedentary, can benefit from physical exercise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, engaging in regular exercise:
- Helps older adults maintain the ability to live independently and reduces their risk of falling and fracturing bones
- Reduces the risk of dying from coronary heart disease and of developing high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes
- Can help reduce blood pressure
- Helps people with chronic, disabling conditions improve their stamina and muscle strength
- Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Helps maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints
- Helps control joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis
But finding health clubs that cater to the needs of older adults with age-friendly facilities, equipment, programming and knowledgeable staff can be tricky.
While not every older adult (ages 55 and over) is out of shape or frail – there are 75-year-old marathoners and 80-year-old Ironman triathletes – humans do lose strength and endurance as they age (though exercise can dramatically alter the rate). A percentage of seniors cannot lift more than 10 pounds, for example.
“If the equipment at a club starts at 10 pounds and works up in 10-pound increments, the facility is saying that they’re not interested and don’t understand older adults, and haven’t equipped the facility with the right tools,” says the International Council on Active Aging’s (ICAA) CEO, Colin Milner. If a club says they have programs that cater to senior fitness and all they have is chair aerobics, that leaves plenty of seniors under served.
“A lot of times an organization will say ‘we’re geared to older adults,’ but that often means adults ages 50-60 who are highly-functioning athletes,” explains Milner. In response, the ICAA has come out with a checklist for finding workout facilities that have the needs of older adults in mind.
Milner suggests walking around a facility with the ICAA checklist, starting from the outside, to see if it caters to who you are and your fitness needs. Notice if you can read the posters and signs. “Do you need to walk up 20 steps to reach classes on the second floor?” asks Milner. “Does the club have an area where you can socialize, which is especially important for older adults? Do they have programs based on levels of function, rather than a senior program as one category?”
Other things to look for include:
- Is the parking lot close to the entrance and well lit?
- Is there transportation to/from the facility?
- Is there non-slip flooring inside and elevator access?
- Do you feel comfortable inside – is there loud music?
- Are there other people like you?
- Are there handrails throughout?
- Are there stretching stations off the floor (some seniors have a hard time getting up and down from the floor)
- Are display panels easy to read?
- Do treadmills start at slow speeds (.5 mph)?
- Does strength-training equipment have age-friendly features, such as low starting resistance, one-pound incremental increases, wide seats and benches for those with balance issues, and is equipment easy to get in/out or on and off of?
- Do classes have different levels of intensity, duration and size?
- Are there programs that meet the needs of those with osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other conditions?
- Is there counseling by qualified staff on nutrition, pain management and behavior modification?
- Is there free orientation to familiarize you with the facilities?
- Do you like the staff? Are they caring and polite?
- Is the staff certified by a nationally recognized senior fitness organization to work with people who have various health issues that may arise with age, such as osteoporosis, hypertension, and arthritis?
- Does staff have CPR and first aid training?
- Are they knowledgeable about the possible effects of medication on exercise?
- Will staff work with your physician if you have health issues?
For the complete checklist, go to: http://www.icaa.cc/consumer/facility-checklist.pdf