Fun Fitness After 50

Something new - like group classes - can keep you motivated to get fit

The too-tight waistband of your favorite jeans and the elevated numbers on the bathroom scale are sure tells that you’ve packed on the pounds during this winter’s Polar Express. Now, with bathing suit and shorts season beckoning, it’s time to get back in shape, and even better, get healthier and stronger.

To get started, you’ll need a pricey personal trainer, an expensive gym or workout studio membership, fancy coordinated outfits or performance gear with high-end designer labels, a costly Fitbit or similar tracking device, the latest iPhone model with a jamming dance mix on the playlist and the topmost brand’s super-snazzy sneakers, right?

Nah, no way. You’re already good to go.

The only essentials are the OK from your healthcare provider should you have any risky pre-existing conditions, a desire to be fitter, a sensible plan and the all-important motivation to stick to it.

“You just need to find fun activities that you like to do and that keep you engaged and are enjoyable for you,” says Wendy Mace, the coordinator of the Forever Fit program for seniors at Hampshire Hills Athletic Club in Milford. “When you find something you like, it helps with the motivation to stick to it,” she adds. “If you’re dragging yourself in somewhere and thinking, ‘Oh God, I hate this workout,’ it’s not going to work.”

Hampshire Hills, and many of the other numerous private clubs all over the state, are comprehensive, full-service facilities with a gamut of popular and effective offerings for building necessary strength, flexibility and muscle tone, improving balance, weight management, and maintaining or regaining an appropriate and ideal level of fitness.

“We’re working with people much older than 50-plus,” says Mace. “Forever Fit offers strength and balance classes that utilize tubing, dumbbells and body weight, tai chi. [And there’s] the Triple Play class that does cardio, strength and stretch,” adds Mace, 60, who has been on the staff for 30 years and has four instructors under her supervision. “We also have a small group training class in our weight room where four to six people work with a trainer — that’s called Strength for Seniors. We have our Gentle Yoga class for seniors, a 30-minute stretch class, Zumba Gold, a class called Just Dance, yoga, Pilates, barre, spinning and more.”

For those who still like to have their competitive fires stoked, Hampshire Hills also gives seniors the chance to play wallyball, pickleball, basketball and tennis, and Mace says that some of the tennis players are in their 90s.

But private clubs do have price tags, and the ones for many of the small specialty and boutique ones can be mighty high.

Luckily, the senior set can find ways around having to dig into their pockets. Almost all of the 42 senior centers crisscrossing New Hampshire have excellent reduced cost or free fitness options, and for those 65-plus, the Silver Sneakers bonus program is included with one of several purchased Medicare supplemental insurance coverage plans available in this state from Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Humana or United Healthcare.

“There are a variety of free or reduced-cost classes available at senior centers,” says Brinn Sullivan, the president of the New Hampshire Association of Senior Centers and the senior services supervisor for the city of Portsmouth. Should your community lack a dedicated senior center, Sullivan adds that many recreation departments offer senior programming, including “bone builders,” a physical fitness activity designed for seniors. Both senior centers and rec departments are great places for those looking to get fit, says Sullivan.

The aptly named Silver Sneakers, which isn’t covered by basic Medicare Part A and Part B, gives you a no-cost comprehensive gym membership with unlimited access to over 1,400 facilities participating in the program nationwide. Silver Sneakers includes fitness classes for all levels and abilities taught by certified instructors, weight training, treadmills, social activities and events, and some of the gyms even have swimming pools.

But where and how you choose to work out to maintain optimal health and fitness matters not. Since sedentary is the new smoking, replete with many of the detrimental and dangerous health conditions caused by puffing away, it’s vitally important to get out of that easy chair.

“Our bodies were designed to move,” says Mace. “If you have a job that makes you sit, or you’re retired and not getting up and out as much as you used to, you get more sedentary. You have got to get up and get moving,” she says.

Taking that first step can be literal rather than metaphorical. Walking is one of the easiest and safest ways to shed the weight and is jam-packed with physical, emotional and mental health benefits. Not only is it free, it comes with the perk of being outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

A walking partner helps keep you on the path, and a four-footed one is likely your most eager, steadfast and reliable companion. A long daily constitutional or shorter, more frequent treks are beneficial for both you and your pooch. If you don’t have a dog, or prefer human over canine companionship, join a senior walking club like the one at the Hampshire Hills Dome.

“Having a pet makes you get out, walk and move,” says Mace. “Although for most people over 50, 60 or older, a group setting is more motivating. There is also a social aspect that people are looking for because as they start to retire and are no longer around their work place work buddies, their world starts to get a little small.” Choosing a place that has group or team activities, and/or a walking club, will help keep you engaged, she adds.  
When planning your program, remember to appreciate what the Granite State offers, including the extraordinary scenic beauty of every region.

“We live in New Hampshire and it’s awesome,” says Mace. “You can do everything here. You can walk, hike and bike, and do all kinds of other outdoor things year-round that keep you fit.” Follow your time in the great outdoors with a trip to a smaller studio where you can try yoga, Pilates, dancing or something along those lines, she adds. “Don’t be afraid to try something new, and make sure it’s fun.”

Thinking Outside the Box Gym

You might think you’re up on all the fitness trends, but have you heard of pole dancing as a workout?

“Women over 50 take classes here because they want to try something new and different,” says Juel Sheridan, owner of New Perspectives Pole and Aerial in Manchester’s Millyard.

Not only is pole dancing creative, artistic and beautiful, it’s an intense athletic workout and a surefire way to reclaim muscle tone, flexibility and strength while chiseling a svelte shape.

It might sound intimidating, but Sheridan says it’s exactly the opposite.

“It isn’t like going to a gym, where it can be intimidating being in a weight room with a bunch of grunting guys,” she says. The classes are for women, creating a relaxing, safe and fun atmosphere, adds Sheridan, who happens to be a competitive pole dancer with a master’s degree in health education and coaching. She’s also a certified strength and conditioning specialist.

She highly recommends it for the over-50 crowd, but warns that you should temper expectations. You’re not going to be able to do it all as fast as the 20 year old who perhaps just finished a gymnastics program. It will take time, she says, but as long as you’re OK having fun with the process while you learn what suits you, rather than focusing on doing the hardest trick, you’ll be fine.

Pole dancing and pole fitness classes continue to draw seniors into studios all over the country, and one of the major reasons is that they allow women who are permenopausal and postmenopausal to reconnect with their inner vixen and get back their “sexy.”

“That’s what they all tell us. The sexy comes back,” Sheridan says. “When they first come in, they often think they could never get up on a pole and do complete a spin at their age. But they can, and when they do, they all get an enormous sense of accomplishment and empowerment.”

Sheridan offers a full slate of pole dancing, pole fitness and aerial classes from novice to the expert level, and seven certified instructors are on staff to help create a unique and challenging workout. To find a free “taster class” and other information, check out the studio at newperspectivesnh.com.

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