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Fitness After 50: The Gym Goes Gray

Baby boomers are flocking to fitness centers in record numbers

Redefining Fitness, Boomer-Style

While the idea of midlife fitness may have been sneaking into our collective consciousness for some time, experts say the real difference came when health clubs themselves began to change.

Leading the pack: a Harlington, Texas, company with a chain of health clubs known as Curves. It started in 1995 as one location offering a circuit-training program aimed at women over 45, and in just 36 months it grew to 1,000 locations. Today there are some 9,000 Curves gyms worldwide.

But what was different about this club? Some believe it simply made fitness easier for the overworked, overstressed Boomer to achieve.

"It put the health club into the neighborhood, and created a fast, time-saving, 30-minute workout a woman could easily fit into her day," says Milner.

It also did something else. Experts say it created a more attainable model for success.

"Essentially, it did away with the 'perfect body' dream, and replaced it with the much more realistic 'better lifestyle and better health' dream -- and it worked," says Milner.

It also helped spawn an entire industry. In addition to the 8,000 Curves locations around the United States, similar organizations such as Slim and Tone for women and now Cuts -- a kind of Curves for men -- are taking off.

What's more, even gyms and health clubs that have traditionally courted the hard-body set are looking to catch some backsplash from the Baby Boomer fitness wave. Bally Total Fitness is launching an ad campaign aimed at Boomers, according to news reports, while the Southern California chain of Gold's Gyms plans to begin featuring 50-somethings in its ads.

50-and-Up Fitness: What You Must Know

While the spirit may be willing, experts say, by the time you're 50 or older, your body needs a little extra attention if you are to benefit in both the short and the long run.

Some experts worry that not every gym or health club is up to the challenge.

"The shift towards getting fit after 50 is definitely taking place, but unfortunately, the staff and instructors at many gyms and fitness clubs are not really set up for this paradigm change," says Robert Catalini, an exercise physiologist and director of the Holy Redeemer Health and Fitness Center at Holy Redeemer Medical Center in Meadowbrook, Pa.

This is particularly important for those who have not exercised in the past or who have become sedentary in recent years, he says.

"The longer it has been since you set foot inside a gym, the more you are going to have to rely on your instructors to guide you to the right kinds of activities, so it's important that they really know what they are doing, " says Bryant.

Moreover, Catalini says, if you're already saddled with health issues -- like achy joints, bad knees, or back pain -- as well as risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or obesity, you need to be doubly sure you're getting the right advice.

"There's no question you can do it, and should do it, but there are certain things you have to pay attention to, and certain guidelines you have to follow, and they can't be the same ones you followed in your 20s or 30s or even 40s," says Catalini.

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