Helen and George Stroup can tell you about the benefits of staying active in your senior years.
"You feel better after you've exercised. People don't believe you, but you do," Helen Stroup said.
The Stroups, both 73, joined the Bel Air Athletic Club just afterit opened in 1980. Neither had been very active before, but these days they rarely miss a workout.
"I had high cholesterol," said Helen Stroup, who moved to Bel Air from just outside Altoona, Pa., after she and her husband retired in 1979. "One of my doctors said if therewas an athletic club down here we should join. We did, and we haven't been sorry."
The Stroups settled in Bel Air to be near their daughter, Judy Johns, and her family. Sometimes, three generations of the family can be found working out at the club -- the Stroups, their daughter and grandson Jonathan Johns, 20.
The Stroups may not be the average 73-year-old couple -- but they aren't so unusual either.
The number of senior citizens working out regularly at the Bel Air Athletic Club, the county's largest private health club, is increasingall the time, said Roger Ralph, who owns the club along with his wife, Elaine.
Ralph said that the number of seniors in aerobics classes and water sports has doubled over the past five years and that thenumber is also picking up in other sports.
Today's active seniorsmay be thought of as pioneers one day. Not only are they plowing a fairly new course for themselves and the rest of their generation, buttheir efforts should make the golden years a better time for the rest of the rapidly aging population.
Every year, more and more Americans reach the age of 55, "officially" becoming senior citizens.
In Harford County, those age 55 and older make up 16 percent of the population, based on statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of State Planning.
The latest census figures put the number of Maryland citizens over age 55 at just over 19 percent of the population.
Since the first wave of baby
boomers won't even hit 50for about five more years, the senior population will certainly explode with the turn of the century. By 2025, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population will be over age 50.
As more Americans become senior citizens, more senior citizens are determined not to take it too easy in their golden years, aging experts say.
Forget the image of grandma and grandpa rocking their old age away on the front porch. More and more seniors are trading sedentary lifestyles for regular exercise.
More seniors understand that regular exercise and proper diet can add up to a happier, healthierold age. In addition, seniors have more opportunities to participatethan ever before.
In Harford County, seniors can work out at a variety of private athletic clubs, such as the Bel Air Athletic Club, or they can take classes specifically aimed at the senior population at Harford Community College.
Once seniors begin working out and get into better shape, many seek more rigorous exercise or greater variety in their athletic programs, Ralph noted.
"We've always had a core cadre of seniors in swimming and water sports," said Ralph, 49. "A lot more people are doing cross training
now because it's less boring. I think you're going to see a lot more seniors interested in strength training, both stations and free weights."
The trend is obvious at Harford Community College, said Don Dean, director of health, physical education, recreation and athletics.
The college offersa handful of non-credit exercise courses targeted at senior citizens, but some also sign up for a variety of credit courses, the most popular being aerobic swimming, he said. A few also take a fitness maintenance class using the equipment in the college's fitness lab even though that course is not targeted for senior citizens.
The most popular seniors-oriented program is a fitness course, which meets several times a week and stresses flexibility routines, strengthening exercises and cardiovascular fitness.
The 2-year-old course has about 60 members in the current class. Other popular non-credit courses include swimming fitness for senior adults and ballet for senior adults.
"A lot of these (courses) have been developed in the last five years," Dean said. "And they are constantly being developed to meet the needs of this part of the population. (The senior fitness course) is designed so they incorporate a variety of activities. You're not justgoing into the pool and swimming. As much as it can be, it's individualized. We don't expect everyone to do everything or at the same level."
The biggest showcase of active senior citizens is the U.S. National Senior Sports Classic, formerly called the National Senior Olym
pics. The third biennial event drew about 5,200 participants between the ages of 55 and 99 to Syracuse, N.Y., last week. Seven Harford County residents were among the approximately 200 Maryland athleteswho competed in one or more of the event's 18 sports.