Health clubs are no longer the exclusive territory of the young and buff. Walk into a gym on any given day and you will see a representative number of the 50+ crowd.
When Miriam U. decided to join a health club after knee replacement surgery, she knew what she did not want a lot of sweaty, testosterone-laden weight lifters, a staff that knew more about fashion than they did about physiology, or a club where, at 77, she would feel out of place. "I was looking for a comfortable environment," the Massachusetts resident says.
Fortunately, Miriam found that gyms have changed a lot from the "muscle beach" days. "It is very, very, comfortable," she says of her new club, adding that her gym has a knowledgeable staff and a variety of programs for all ages.
Whatever your reason for exercising—social, health, or stress relief—you'll find health clubs rushing to meet your needs. Depending on how long it has been since you stepped inside a gym, you might be surprised at the changes. Health clubs have become conscious of the desires of older members. They are actively recruiting people from the 50+ age group and they are creating special programs and tailored information for them.
Do not fear that you will be the only one with gray hair amidst a sea of short shirts and college T-shirts. Ann Marie Miller, fitness training manager for New York Sports Clubs, says while some of their clubs are in areas where they expect little enrollment from older folks, their suburban clubs have higher participation—20% or so.
The time of day you work out influences the demographic mix of your fellow exercisers. For instance, clubs typically experience an upsurge in younger members during weekday evenings. Miriam says, "I'm retired, so I go during the day, when most of the people working out are also retired."
If you are not sure, ask the salesperson about that club's demographics. A quick glance at the club's event calendar or class schedule will give you an idea of the clientele. Health clubs offering programs for mature members are more likely to have larger populations of people in your age group.
Some health clubs provide a one-on-one health assessment and personalized workout consultation as part of the membership package. Bally Total Fitness, for example, offers a number of packages so that you can decide how many sessions you would like with the personal trainer. Working one-on-one with a trainer may be helpful for you if it has been a long time since you have exercised. Proper training is essential to ensure you are comfortable with the exercises and that your exercise routine is in line with your capabilities and goals.
Many gyms across the United States offer SilverSneakers, a special program designed for older adults. With SilverSneakers, you can choose from a range of classes, like strength training, cardio, yoga, and water aerobics, which are led by certified instructors. To find out more about this program, visit their website. Your local YMCA may already be offering it!
Before you sign on the dotted line, visit several clubs to see where you feel most comfortable. Most clubs will offer prospective members free passes so you can actually try the gym before you decide to join. Schedule your visit for the time of day you plan to use the facilities so you can see who is there at that time and how crowded it is. After all, your heart will not get much of a workout if you spend most of your visit waiting in line to use the equipment.
Depending on where you live and what amenities your club offers, monthly fees can range from $10 to over $100. Keep in mind, too, that there may be an initiation fee, processing fee, and possibly a commitment requirement of a year or more. Be sure to find out if the club offers a discount to seniors! And check with your health insurance company or Medicare representative to find out if they offer a discount on a gym membership.
Beginning an exercise program can be a daunting task. By choosing the right club, though, you give yourself an edge with qualified staff, good equipment, and like-minded colleagues. A good health club can help you get your body where you want it—and maybe have fun in the process too.