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Different Strokes for Older Folks

According to Bill Howland, research director of the industry trade group IHRSA, the fastest growing segment of club membership is over 35, with over 55 being even faster growing. "It's been a long time since mandatory PE," he notes. "We are looking at a kinder, gentler approach here.

"People who are not members," Howland continues, "can be intimidated by the club setting. They think they need to be fit already or that they will not fit in. But when you stop to think about it, not that many Americans are ultrafit."

Howland says he has been playing competitive sports since third grade and even he gets intimidated if he sees a bunch of perfect specimens bench pressing twice his body weight. "If I feel that way," he says, "I know others might, too."

Club operators are trying to be sensitive to this. Some clubs are niching out and separating the die-hards from the beginners (apparently, those who work out three hours a day sniff at the Janie-come-latelys, what were the odds?). Other clubs provide a relatively modest club "uniform," and still others prohibit tank tops. Howland advises getting involved in a group class. "Make friends," he says. (Indeed, one health club ad reads: "Get strong. Get fit. Get lucky.")

The Right Workout for You

Even if you are not looking to get lucky, you can get healthier. "Remember, exercise is a life-long commitment," says Harry DuVal, PhD, professor of exercise science at the University of Georgia in Athens. Or should we say live-long?

DuVal differentiates between wanting to be healthier and wanting to be perfectly fit. "You can be healthier simply by walking briskly 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week," he says. "That will give you the cardiovascular benefits, anticancer benefits, and cholesterol benefits." If you get tired of walking, do a stint of cycling or gardening. "Move!" urges Jordan.

Jordan ties appropriate exercise to one's Meyers-Briggs personality profile. "Different types of people like to do different things," she says. For instance, the social personality type probably needs group classes or a walking buddy. The competitive CEO type can play "blood" racquetball three times a week and not tire of it. The salesperson type of personality likes to flit from activity to activity, treadmill one day, inline skating the next. And the chief financial officer type reads the data and knows that x minutes on the elliptical trainer is the quickest, most efficient way to control weight and strengthen the heart. "That person will be on that trainer every day at six," Jordan says. "Year in and year out."

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