Swarms of resolution-making> Americans will hit the gym this month, but are aging baby boomers really up for boot camp? With about 10.5 million people ages 55 and older now being health club members more than four times as many as in 1990 more companies are rolling out fitness products aimed at the silver-haired set. Even aerobics queen Jane Fonda, now 72, is back with a new series of senior-friendly exercise DVDs. The latest:
Health clubs are adding strength- and balance-training programs, which are increasingly important as people age, says Meredith Poppler, a vice president at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. Fitness chain Nifty after Fifty specializes in customized workouts for people 50 and over, while about 10,000 fitness centers nationwide offer SilverSneakers, a set of boomer-friendly exercise programs. Experts suggest would-be gymgoers check with their insurer before signing up, since some memberships are covered.
Devices that measure speed or distance traveled are effective motivators, says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise. And the latest crop of low-maintenance gadgets are a good fit for boomers who don't want to mess with complicated programming. The $99 Fitbit, for one, is a tiny gizmo that clips to a user's clothing and tracks everything from running pace to when he falls asleep though people who want to use it to track calorie intake must enter it manually.
For boomers who crave a runner's high but not a runner's achy knees, there are a variety of new machines designed for a gentler workout. The Step360 ($150) is an inflatable step topped by a platform, providing enough wobble to engage muscles and test balance but not so much that exercisers could topple over. For those who prefer to do their sweating outdoors, the ElliptiGO 8S, a cross between a bicycle and an elliptical machine, mimics the feel of running but spares joints all that pounding though at $2,199, your wallet might not be so lucky.