It's no secret that physical activity is a cornerstone of healthy aging, and the senior population has long been aware of the benefits of regular exercise. And while that hasn't changed over the years, the way older adults are choosing to remain physically active has. Rather than settling for traditional exercises such as walking through the park or mild aerobics, seniors are instead participating in more engaging pursuits thanks in large part to a burgeoning number of exercise programs and gyms targeted specifically toward the retired population, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Active gym users
Over the last several years, gyms have seen a spike in the number of older members. In fact, industry insiders say they are the fastest growing segment of the gym-going population. Recognizing the trend, a number of fitness experts have launched gyms that cater only to older adults. Among them is Dr. Sheldon Zinberg, who founded Nifty After Fifty in 2006 in an effort to provide seniors with a unique and engaging way to stay physically fit. Today, there a number of Nifty After Fifty gyms, and they feature activities such as martial arts and balloon volleyball. Adults who go to senior-specific gyms have given them rave reviews.
"It's depressing exercising alongside the young girls with the cute little bodies at normal gyms," Delfina Lerma, 72, told the newspaper. "I don't dread coming here. It's even enjoyable because you're around people your own age."
Efforts pay off
There are many well-known benefits to regular exercise. It reduces the risk of heart disease, helps seniors maintain their bone strength and flexibility and also may improve mental function. Additionally, physical activity can have a substantial impact on seniors' overall mental health. A 2011 study performed by scientists from Sweden's University of Gothenburg found that regular exercise later in life can drastically lower the chances of developing depression. The findings, which came after an analysis of 17,500 people 64 and older, helped shed light on a sometimes overlooked issue.
"This study is one of the first to look at both how physical activity affects future depression and vice-versa, and how change in physical activity is associated with change in depression over time," said study author Dr. Magnus Lindwall. "An important question for the researchers to answer has been what motivates elderly people to be physically active."