Today's seniors are sitting on bikes, not rocking chairs.When Theresa Bean, 66, was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia close to a decade ago, the only prescription doctors gave to alleviate it came in the form of antidepressants. "They made me sleep all the time, and I thought to myself, 'I can't take these,'" she says. "I told myself that I had a choice: do I want to spend the rest of my life sleeping or doing something about it?"At the time she lived in northwestern Pennsylvania, and right around the corner from her home was a gym offering a free pass, so she went to check it out. "I got talked into staying for a Silver Sneakers class, ended up loving it and signed up to work with one of the personal trainers there." At first she could only do about 8 repetitions at a time with a 1- or 2-pound weight, but gradually she found that both her strength and her symptoms got better. Then Bean went one step further. "I asked the trainer how to go about becoming a senior trainer, and she mentored me," says Bean.Eventually Bean earned her American Council on Exercise (ACE) certification as a group fitness instructor and is currently working on becoming a registered yoga teacher through YogaFit. Never one to sit still, however, Bean says she's not finished when she gets that certification. "As soon as I complete it I'm going to go on for 300 hours of therapeutic yoga instruction certification."When she and her husband retired and moved to Dover about four years ago, she began teaching classes here in New Hampshire. Today she leads eight classes a week at the Dover Senior Center, including Zumba Gold (a popular exercise class with a party-like atmosphere and Latin and international beats geared toward baby boomers) and chair yoga (where poses are done mostly from a sitting position in a chair or using the chair for balance). She also teaches an aerobics cardio class and a Muscle Strength/Range of Motion class."Being an exercise instructor gives me a purpose to get up and exercise every day: it helps your heart, lowers your blood pressure, lowers your chance of diabetes, your blood sugar levels, lowers your cholesterol ..." says Bean. "The main thing I try to stress through all my exercise classes is that I want to keep people from going into a nursing home. Anything that keeps them active and on their feet keeps them independent and in their own homes."Beans says the range of age in her classes is really wide - one gentleman in her aerobics class was a spritely 95-year-old. "The thing with senior exercise," says Bean, "is that it doesn't matter how old you are. You can start doing simple weight training at 85 and you will see a difference."Michele Foy, owner of Gold's Gym in Concord, has seen seniors join her gym for all sorts of reasons. While some come in to lose weight, others want to improve chronic conditions. She gives the example of one client who battled asthma for years. "He joined Gold's Gym when we first opened in 2006 because he wanted to be able to run around and play with his grandchild," says Foy. Concentrating mostly on yoga classes, which stresses proper breathing techniques, he came to Foy two years ago with a note from his doctor at Concord Hospital. The note said that based on the results of his annual asthma test they deemed him asthma-free. "After 25 years of pills he was able to go off his medication," says Foy.Whatever the reason for joining and exercising, Foy says, "the common denominator is that we want them to achieve their goals and make sure everyone has a positive experience. We don't want people to think of it like a dentist office or someplace you don't want to go."Gyms and senior centers aren't the only choices for seniors, however. The Granite State Senior Games is a nonprofit organization approaching its 25th anniversary. Larry Flint, chairperson of the games, says that seniors aged 50 and older participate in the 16 sports offered for many reasons. "Some people have done a sport all their lives and are continuing to test their activity level," he says. "You are always comparing yourself to what you used to do in your youth."Others, Flint adds, have never had any experience at all but have found a niche for themselves, some ability they never believed they had in high school or college. "Some events require brawn, some require technique," he says.Each year the games are held in the month of August in the Manchester area. Those who participate - they had about 800 participants two years ago - and finish in the top three in their age group in a particular event then can go on to compete at the national games in Houston, Texas, which is held every two years.Some categories, like swimming and archery, are individual; others like basketball and badminton are for doubles or groups. Flint and his wife play shuffleboard together. "It's a great event to do together as a doubles team," he says. "Shuffleboard is a chess game on the ground. You're always trying to outthink your opponent."Todd Ringlestein, 56, recently won a gold medal at the Houston Senior Games along with the other players on his 3-on-3 basketball team. "I have been playing basketball since about the third grade. I played high school football, basketball, baseball and swam competitively in the summer. In college, I played lacrosse. Since then, I have played in men's basketball leagues in Laconia and now in Concord," says Ringlestein. "When I was turning 50, I heard about the Games. I had stayed in athletic shape and was curious about how I would stand against someone else my age in competition."What's great about the Senior Games, adds Flint, is that every five years you're in a different age group, so you're always participating against your peers. "Although some of the race walkers can outdo me in the older age group," he chuckles.Flint says they are always looking for people to join, and that the relatively low cost is a big draw for some seniors (it's $35 to participate and - unique to New Hampshire's Games - that entitles you to participate in as many sports as you want). "You don't pay per event," says Flint. But, he adds, a lot of people don't participate until they retire. "We're always trying to get younger seniors to be a part of it earlier," he says.Participating in sports gives you something to work for, Flint adds. "When you have a job everything revolves around work," he says. Once you stop, "this is a way of motivating you to stay healthy, to get up in the morning, for training and activities."More than likely you wouldn't think about skipping a shower every day, or brushing your teeth, and exercise should be no different. No matter which way you are looking to work fitness into your life - whether it be the gym, a class, a personal trainer at home or a sport - make it easy to work in as a regular part of your day. If it becomes part of your routine, you'll be more inclined to keep it up. And if you can stick with it for at least six months, it's a good indicator that it's a habit that you'll continue for the long haul.Theresa Bean agrees with this philosophy: "I plan on teaching exercise until my body gives out," she says. NHGet ActiveGranite State Senior GamesGSSG holds annual State Games for athletes of all abilities aged 50 and up, and over a one-month period. This year's Senior Games take place in Manchester from August 5-August 28. www.nhseniorgames.orgPersonal TrainersSome seniors prefer to work out in the privacy of their own home or work one-on-one with a personal trainer. The American Council on Exercise offers a way to find a personal trainer located near you. www.acefitness.orgSilver SneakersSilver Sneakers is a benefit offered to members of many Medicare plans across the U.S. To find out if you have a participating fitness location near you visit www.silversneakers.com.
This article appears in the August 2011 issue of New Hampshire Magazine