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 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 graying hair amidst a sea of short shirts and college T-shirts. While some gyms in college areas may have a younger crowd, you may find gyms in other areas have the age mix you are looking for.
The time of day you work out also 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 to help you get started. Working one-on-one with a trainer may also 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 also offer special programs for older adults. Try a sample of different activities to get a balance of strength, cardio and stretching benefits. Also talk to instructors about other classes that may fit your interest and fitness level.
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 greatly. Keep in mind, too, that there may be an initiation fee, processing fee, and possibly a commitment requirement of a year or more. Some gyms may charge extra for classes, programs, or use of certain areas, such as a pool or raquetball court. Check for senior discounts from the gym, or wellness discounts from your insurance company while you're shopping around for the right gym. Make sure you do not pay for more than what you will need or use.
Beginning an exercise program can be a daunting task, but finding the gym can be an easy part of the process. By choosing the right club, 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.