Staying fit is a priority for determined seniors

Exercise: Those who are 50 and older now work out more than any other age group.

Life After 50

January 16, 2000|By Korky Vann | Korky Vann,Hartford Courant

What do the Recycled Teen-agers, Babes on Blades, the Tucson Hot Flashes, Still Kicking and the Over the Hill Gang have in common?

They're all fitness groups for athletes who are 50 and older. According to a new study done by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, the 50-plus generation is exercising more than any other age group, and they're not just walking -- they're joining health clubs, running, biking, swimming, playing soccer, lifting weights, in-line skating and more.

Activities once thought to be the exclusive territory of younger athletes are now being embraced by an older generation of fitness buffs.

Among them:

The Rodeo Grandmas, a bunch of rodeo-roping and riding women over age 60 in Washington state.

The Over the Hill Gang, an international group of 50-plus skiers who believe that, "When you're over the hill, you pick up speed."

The Atlanta Avengers, a team of men over 70 who are still running bases and sliding home.

Still Kicking, a Farmington, Conn., soccer team for women ages 50 to 70.

Maria Stefan, executive director of the manufacturers association, said America's elderly get involved in sports and recreation programs for social interaction as well as physical fitness.

"What the dance club is to the younger generation, health clubs and fitness groups have become to the 50-plus generation," says Stefan. "They see sports and fitness as the new health prescription for looking good on the outside and feeling good on the inside."

According to the study, the top five activities for people 55 and over are aquatic exercise, fitness walking, golf, stationary cycling and cross-country skiing. Other surprising statistics:

Over-50 golfers play three times as often as their younger counterparts.

Weight-training is the fastest-growing fitness activity, driven up 54 percent over the past decade by women age 55 plus.

More than 3 million people, most of them over 50, walk in shopping malls for exercise -- double the number five years ago.

Thousands of 50-plus fitness groups are organized annually -- in addition to structured health clubs and classes.

Research shows active seniors are on the right track. The American Medical Association says that as physical activity increases, the risk of heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis and noninsulin dependent diabetes drops.

In an article published recently in the medical journal The Physician and Sportsmedicine, Dr. Thomas L. Schwenk of the University of Michigan Medical Center writes that "physical activity may not be a fountain of youth, but it's the closest thing we have."

Sedentary seniors can make significant strides in gaining fitness even when they start late, Schwenk writes. "Most physiological decline stems from inactivity and is reversible."

The study also shows that older individuals who have jumped on the fitness train are spending more money on athletic clothing and equipment. Sales of exercise equipment to individuals ages 45 to 64 increased by more than 50 percent in 1998. Stefan says sporting-goods manufacturers have responded to the needs of older athletes with specially designed clothing and equipment.

New to the market are tennis rackets that are lighter and have larger racket heads to compensate for slower swing speeds, golf clubs with lighter shafts and larger heads, and even special golf balls.

"Manufacturers are expanding their lines to include clothing with relaxed, fuller-cut fits, longer-length jackets and shorts and shoes that are cut wider and have more support," says Alice Gold, owner of Fleet Feet Sports for Women in West Hartford, Conn. "Companies are finally starting to realize that people don't stop exercising as they age."

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