Fitness After 50: The Gym Goes Gray
Baby boomers are flocking to fitness centers in record numbers
They may not be hanging Beatles posters on the walls, or piping in the
soundtrack from Yellow Submarine. Still, more and more fitness centers
are doing everything they can to attract the baby boom generation -- and it's
working, with folks over 50 making up the fastest-growing segment of the
"For about the past 15 years, the baby boom fitness market has been
slowly growing," says Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on
Active Aging. "But in the last several years it has really exploded, and
it's exploded in many segments, including health club memberships."
According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association,
older adults are hitting gyms and health clubs at a record rate. The group says
the number of health club members over 55 grew by 343% from 1987 to 2003, while
the number of members in the 35-54 age group increased by 180%.
Milner says that by 2012, "those numbers will increase even more
dramatically. This is a market that is only going to grow more and more as time
What's driving the change? Trend-watchers say the generation that once
believed "never trust anyone over 30" is now well over 50 but still
determined not to grow old.
"I think we could roll up the whole reasoning into just one phrase --
quality of life -- because the feedback we get is that people simply want to be
active in their later years, and they now realize that being fit is one of the
only ways to do that," says Dean Witherspoon, president of Health
Enhancement Systems, which creates health programs for corporations and other
Milner agrees: "A lot of the problems we used to think of as being
related to aging, we now know aren't related to aging at all. They are related
to disuse of the body, and boomers have finally begun to realize 'Hey, we can
do something about that.'"
Indeed, studies continue to show that we can. 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
Neurology, doctors found that exercise can slow cognitive declines -- meaning
our minds can stay sharper longer.
"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.
And baby boomers are not about to let that opportunity slip by, experts
"Unlike our grandparents, who simply hoped they could hang around long
enough to collect Social Security, our generation has every expectation that at
60 we're going to be doing the same things we did at 45 -- and it's a very good
possibility that we will," says Witherspoon.