Baby boomer fitness
Jane Fonda videos, Jack La Lane on TV, and Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta in the movie “Perfect” – mention any one of these to a baby boomer and you will see smiles of recognition.
“Baby Boomer” is the name of the generation of people born during the post-war return of troops from the Second World War between the years of 1946 through 1964 and are 78 million strong (26% of the US population, including me!). This generation is responsible for spear-heading the “fitness generation”, and as with all things in life, their needs are evolving. Where looking sleek and thin and burning calories through high impact fitness activities was once the motivation and method, now baby boomers needs are maintaining suppleness in muscles and joints, avoiding the loss of lean muscle, and preventing or managing a variety of health issues such as high cholesterol.
The fitness industry is evolving in order to meet the needs of this large population which continues to frequent gyms across the country. What exactly do boomers most need and what activities will best suit them? Read on!
Special needs of baby boomers
Although the Boomer generation is credited with starting the fitness movement, ironically we are generally less fit than our parents’ generation was. We have higher rates of diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol and obesity than previous generations.
There are many factors that contribute to this situation such as change in food production and higher stress levels due to living in the age of advanced communication and having to keep up with never before experienced data and information. But a decrease in physical activity in everyday life is a major contributor. For instance, previous generations had to physically wash and hang clothes, walk more to get to stores and appointments, and physically chop and make foods by kneading dough and mixing ingredients by hand.
Baby Boomers have regularly exercised in gyms and with videos and DVDs. But because of time-saving devices and lifestyle changes, we are less healthy even with the addition of our fitness pursuits, which is why it is important that we continue these fitness activities as we age.
Generally, Baby Boomers are most in need of three things now:
- Management of our stiff muscles and joints
- Strength training to prevent loss of lean muscle
- Balance and coordination
In my opinion, managing the stiffening of our muscles and joints is the most important thing we can do. As we age our body tissue becomes less elastic and less lubricated. In the mornings especially, it can feel like rigor mortis has set in overnight and it takes a good 10 minutes of moving around to feel “normal” again. Osteo-arthritis, degeneration of the bone in the joints, is one of the most frequently cited health concerns of boomers and is one that can easily be managed through exercise.
Secondly, people lose .8-1% of lean muscle each year over the age of 40 and that rate increases to 1.5% over the age of 60. But if you strength train, this can actually be prevented.
Finally, balance and coordination become more problematic as we age for a variety of reasons, including factors mentioned above, as well as changes in the brain and information processing between body and mind. Fitness activities need to train the body-mind complex with balance and agility challenges in order to prevent falls and feelings of unstableness that leads to decreasing physical activities in daily life.
All of these also contribute to a loss of quality of life. Who wants to hit retirement and not be able to fully participate in activities with children and grandchildren because of limitations to our physical bodies, especially if they can be avoided?
Boomer fitness group activities
The fitness industry has evolved to meet the changing needs of the boomer generation and all over the Capital Region group fitness activities reflect these changing needs. The movement in group fitness is to combine activities into a mixture that meets strength needs, balance and agility and flexibility and range of motion needs through a hybrid of single techniques into one class.
Tai Chi, Pilates, yoga, low impact cardio activities such as Zumba, a Spanish dance based activity, agua classes, low impact (but high intensity) cycle classes, and strength training with tubes and other props are being creatively combined to meet the needs of the baby boomers. Local class offerings include names such as Body Flow, Fit over Fifty, Agility Training and Fusion. Area indoor cycle studios are providing such offerings such as Cycle and Yoga! All of these classes and many others reflect the industry’s attention to the changing needs of boomers and a creative combination of fitness methods combined in fun and safe formats for the 46-67 year-old peer group.
For example, I teach a group exercise class called Fusion. It is a combination of low and high (but modifiable) cardiovascular movements like jogging in place and cardio punches, strength movements such as push-ups (modified as needed) and core exercises, and yoga including stability poses and joint openers. In one hour, boomers get a workout that benefits balance, flexibility, lean muscle development and cardiovascular demands for improved heart and respiratory health.
If you look through class listings in any of our area health clubs or if you google boomer fitness DVD’s or if you inquire at your work place, you will find a literal banquet of newer combinations of hybrid class offerings that will not only meet your health and fitness needs, but will add fun quality of life to the second half of your life as a boomer!
Judy Torel is a USAT certified coach, has a Master’s degree as a psychotherapist/life coach, is a certified metabolic nutrition coach, 200 RYT yoga instructor, and ACSM certified fitness specialist. She is an ultra-distance runner and 6 time Ironman competitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and her office is located at 116 Everett Road, Albany.