Baby boomers shape up for the long haul

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      The Third Age, according to William Sadler, the Oakland, California–based sociology and business professor who coined the term, is something previous generations never got to see. With people living decades longer than their forebears who were alive in 1900, this 30-year “life bonus” is a period of fulfillment, meaning, and self-awareness. For Vancouver Third Agers, it also involves a ton of physical activity.

      “We have more and more baby boomers coming in all the time,” says Maureen Wilson, owner of downtown Vancouver’s Sweat Co. Workout Studios. “I have many 70-plus clients. One loves golfing; all he wants to do is golf and improve his game. There are lots of executives coming up to retirement. I have one client in his late 60s who had never exercised in his life. Some want to be better golfers; others want to simply be able to move more comfortably.

      “One of our instructors…teaches rooms full of baby boomers who love running marathons,” Wilson adds. “It’s never too late to start.”

      Wilson herself can attest to the benefits of regular exercise: at 53, she’s been in business for 31 years and still teaches fitness classes several times a week, from spinning to core classes, in addition to taking on clients as a personal trainer.

      A growing trend in the fitness industry, she says, is a focus on training and working with older adults. Several fitness-education providers offer courses that cover things like how aging affects people’s flexibility, strength, and metabolism as well as the psychological changes that accompany aging.

      “There’s more and more information out there focusing on things like older clients with arthritis or working with people taking certain blood thinners,” Wilson says. “We all have to be more knowledgeable because so many more people want to get involved in fitness.”

      Ron Zalko, founder of Ron Zalko Fitness and Yoga in Kitsilano, says he’s seen an increase in the number of older people coming to the gym during the past few years.

      “Baby boomers are very aware of the benefits of fitness as they age,” Zalko says by phone. “If you look at every single research study out there today about heart disease or cardiovascular problems, they all say to exercise and eat well. It’s always the same message. That’s my message to the public too: stay active and eat well.”

      Zalko, 64, who himself regularly runs, cycles, and takes yoga and Pilates classes, notes that aside from playing a role in preventing everything from cancer to diabetes, physical activity is especially important in helping ward off dementia. Just one hour of exercise a week can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by almost half, according to a landmark study published last year in the Lancet Neurology journal. The research identified exercise as offering the most significant protection against the condition.

      Stress is another factor that’s drawing older adults to the gym, Zalko says.

      Sweat Co. Workout Studios owner Maureen Wilson says a growing trend in the fitness industry is training and working with older adults to help with the changes that accompany aging.

      “Pressure and stress are really building up in people’s lives,” he notes. “Everybody’s rushing. They’re getting emails in the middle of the night. They come to release the stress, because stress can kill you. It wasn’t like that 20 years ago, when things were a little more relaxed and the mailman came at noon, Monday to Friday.”

      Zalko suggests that people incorporate cardiovascular exercise as well as strength training into their fitness routine, along with core conditioning and stretching. He also notes that cardiovascular exercise doesn’t have to mean running; it can be a brisk walk, “enough to bring the heart rate up”. Weight training is especially important for women because it reduces the risk of osteoporosis.

      The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activity per week in bouts of 10 minutes or more, as well as strengthening activities at least two days a week.

      Another factor that’s attracting some Vancouver adults to the gym, Zalko says, is worry about their children’s health. “They’re bringing their kids in as well because they’re always on their iPhones and they’re not fit,” he says. “They’re really concerned about their kids. We see it more and more that they’re doing fitness together: hiking or doing triathlons.”

      For older adults just starting out on a path of regular exercise, Wilson says, it’s crucial that they do it safely.

      “You don’t want to jump into courses and classes that are too intense,” she says. “Start with a beginners’ class and work from there. But people are getting smarter about that. There are lots of baby boomers and trainers out there doing it right and keeping healthy.”

      Follow Gail Johnson on Twitter @gailjohnsonwork.



      Kirsten Nash

      May 6, 2015 at 9:13pm

      I am a client of Maureen Wilsons' and Sweat Co., both in personal training and spin classes. I am 54 and with her help I have the energy of people (and I know this is a cliche, but true) half my age. There is so much in life we can't control, but fitness, diet and headspace is totally within our reach...and as a mom, it's also important to me not to push but to lead. I want my kids to be healthy, happy...the best way to make that happen as far as I know is to lead by example. I also don't want them to have to mortgage their lives to pay for a baby boomer bubble that has not taken care of itself! To me it's about self and social and preventative health measures should be part of our health care system if we really want to see change for the better:)