The fountain of youth could be as close as your nearest shopping mall, park or favorite dance class. Staying active as you age doesn’t mean just pumping iron or doing calisthenics anymore. Today, seniors get their hearts pumping and enjoy social outings through mall walks, outdoor yoga classes, water aerobics or Latin dance classes.
Active seniors are having more fun, and have better health.
“There is significant new research in the area of sports physiology that exercise, although it doesn’t necessarily make you live longer, will help you live healthier,” said Dr. Robert Schwartz, chairman of the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
For women at risk for osteoporosis, for example, exercise is as effective as calcium and vitamin D supplementation, he said.
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Staying active as you get older offers a multitude of health benefits.
“If you don’t use your muscles, they atrophy, which means that you lose strength. So if you don’t exercise your heart, your heart doesn’t function as well,” Schwartz said. Blood flow to the heart, brain, lungs and kidneys decreases when you are not active, he said.
Schwartz recommends a two-fold approach. The first are exercises that bring the heart rate up, such as a treadmill, rowing machine or bicycle. A class with a trainer can help a person learn proper techniques.
The second is mixing up your routine. If you get up every morning and lift a five-pound weight, your muscles get used to that, he said, so change up your routine from day to day. “Interval exercise can be extremely important, as opposed to just doing the same thing every day,” Schwartz said.
Sometimes people get stuck in a rut, said Rob Herzog, director of Fitness and Sports Medicine at Memorial Healthcare System. Maybe they like to bike, or they’re into running, and they’re not doing any other type of activity. That’s where you see overuse injuries and weaknesses develop, because you’re only using certain muscles.
“If folks realize that they’re getting bored or they’re starting to deal with injuries, we help them mix it up a little bit and utilize full body motion types of activities,” Herzog said.
“The one key thing I would say for someone 55 or older who wants to maintain exercise is to look at their capabilities and weaknesses,” he said. “This keeps your body in a little bit more balance, and allows you to do a lot more things.”
Here are some options for older adults to stay active:
The Dave & Mary Alper Jewish Community Center in Kendall is one of many South Florida centers offering SilverSneakers classes — www.silversneakers.com — which are available free to those ages 65 and older through qualifying health insurance. The Alper JCC has eight SilverSneakers classes, said Jasonn Gonzalez, fitness center director. They include classic training, a mix of weight, resistance and functional training, such as getting up and sitting down from a chair. Circuit training includes exercises to keep your heart rate up. Chair yoga promotes mind and body health and core flexibility.
“As we get older, we tend to be less active and more sedentary. That, I believe, tends to age the body and the mind,” Gonzalez said. “Keeping the mind healthy, getting out socially and improving functional benefits like balance promotes overall quality of life.”
Zumba is known for high-energy dancing to Latin tunes. Zumba Gold, designed for the older adults and for participants who want a less strenuous workout, offers dancing to the same beats, but with lower intensity movements, more repetition and easier transitions.
“The moves are not quite as intense and are a little easier to follow,” said Joy Prouty, a Zumba education specialist and co-developer of Zumba Gold.
A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience in 2017 showed that dancing was a promising intervention to improve both balance and cognitive decline in the elderly. “I think there are so many benefits. Dance incorporates all your planes of movement. It engages your core and your joints,” Prouty said. “You can do Zumba Gold in a chair, but if you’re doing it standing, we know that body weight exercises help bone and muscular health, as well as balance.”
And for the 55 and older set, it becomes a real social outlet as well. “When you do a fitness program you enjoy, you’re more apt to repeat it,” Prouty said.
Memorial Fitness Centers
Classes like yoga, strengthening classes, kickboxing and cardio are offered at Memorial Fitness Centers, www.memorialfitnesscenter.com, in Hollywood and Pembroke Pines. Aquatic classes such as water aerobics and underwater cycling also are offered in Pembroke Pines.
“You can get a hard workout, and it’s a little challenging, but because they’re non-weight bearing, they’re good for people who have issues with their joints,” said Herzog of Memorial Healthcare System.
Working out is not just weight machines and treadmills, he said. The options are so much broader now than 10 years ago. Assess your flexibility and range of motion, and you can explore new classes and activities with less risk of injury, he said.
“If they start things off in the right way, it quickly opens up what they can do in the future,” Herzog said.
Parks and county centers
The Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation system, www.miamidade.gov/parks, offers plenty to do for older adults who want to be active, said Lara De Souza, deputy director.
Several parks feature outdoor fitness zones with low-impact fitness equipment that include diagrams on how to use them. “You can go for a walk in the park and incorporate it as part of your workout,” De Souza said. “We find that a lot of older adults like them because they’re very friendly to the joints, and they’re not that complicated to use.”
The extensive park system also has active adult programming for people ages 55 and older, water aerobics and free outdoor fitness classes such as yoga, boot camps and Zumba. There also are Forever Young fitness classes that incorporate chair aerobics.
Parks with senior day programs that incorporate fitness require free registration. “They are good for people who want to be more active, and who may be feeling socially isolated,” De Souza said. “You don’t have to go every day, and you don’t have to stay all day. Participants do yoga, step aerobics, and go to fitness centers and work out together. It’s all activities that lend themselves to the healthy mind, body and soul concept.”
The Arcola Lakes Senior Center, 8401 NW 14th Ave., offers free fitness classes to registered members ages 55 and older.
In the Broward County Parks system, www.broward.org/parks, adults can splash around at water parks like Paradise Cove in C.B. Smith, take nature walks or play miniature golf. There are yoga classes at Fern Forest Nature Center, and fitness zones with free equipment at several community parks. Enhanced fitness classes for ages 55 and older, with low-impact cardio exercises, require free registration at Delavoe and Roosevelt Gardens parks.
Broward County’s four Focal Point Senior Centers, www.adrcbroward.org/focalpoints, in Deerfield Beach, Margate, Miramar and Pembroke Pines, offer a variety of free fitness classes.
Between 60 and 100 people gather weekly at 9 a.m. at Dadeland Mall for fitness and socialization before the stores open. It’s a program that’s been sponsored for the past 25 years by Baptist Health South Florida, said Rooney Brodie, director of Community Health & Wellness, Baptist Health. The sessions start with a 30-minute instructor-led program, which could be Zumba, yoga or aerobics, and is followed by a walk around the mall at their own pace before shoppers crowd the halls.
“We have a very active and engaged senior population that uses that as their form of exercise and socialization. They’re a family,” Brodie said.
Walking programs also take place at Coral Square Mall and The Shops at Pembroke Gardens.
Baptist Health also sponsors fitness programs for adults, everything from running clubs to stretch and relaxation classes aimed at keeping seniors healthy and strong, Brodie said. For information and class listings, visit www.baptisthealth.net/wellness.
SilverSneakers: www.silversneakers.com, 866-584-7389
Memorial Fitness Centers: www.memorialfitnesscenter.com, 954-265-5800, Hollywood; 954-844-7125, Pembroke Pines
Miami-Dade County Parks: www.miamidade.gov/parks, 305-468-5900
Arcola Lakes Senior Center: www.miamidade.gov/parks/arcola-lakes-senior-center.asp, 305-694-2728
Broward County Parks: www.broward.org/parks, 954-357-8100
Broward County Focal Point Senior Centers: www.adrcbroward.org/focalpoints.php, 954-745-9779
Baptist Health wellness programs: www.baptisthealth.net/wellness, 786-467-5680