The gym can be an intimidating place for many people, especially for seniors who have unique exercise and fitness needs. Fortunately, there are ways to identify senior-friendly gyms that make an effort to cater to older adults and make them feel more welcome.
Senior adults in search of a gym to call home should look for the following indicators.
6 ways to spot a senior-friendly gym
1. Senior memberships and discounts
Discounted daily or monthly fees for people of a certain age is the first indicator of a fitness center’s level of senior-friendliness. A gym that is willing to discount its dues for seniors is a gym that wants to open its doors to that demographic.
Many nationwide gyms such as Gold’s Gym, Curves, and Planet Fitness will often partner with AARP to offer discounted memberships for seniors.
2. Classes just for seniors
Most gyms offer various types of classes for members, and many gyms go the extra mile to offer classes designed specifically for senior workouts, health, or nutrition. Just a few examples of such classes include:
- Geri-Fit is a fitness program for older adults taught by accredited instructors. It has locations in 17 states throughout the nation. In 2013, Geri-Fit was recognized by both the National Council on Aging and the Administration on Aging. It achieved the level of a Tier-III evidence-based health promotion program.
- Fit & Strong! is an eight-week, evidence-based physical activity program for older adults with osteoarthritis. It has received recognition from the American Society on Aging. There are 57 locations across 11 states.
- EnhanceFitness offers group classes at a number of locations in Washington state. It focuses on stretching, flexibility, balance, low-impact aerobics, and strength training.
Having access to such classes not only offers valuable information and training but can also be a gateway to a network of fellow fitness-minded seniors.
3. Equipment designed for seniors
Certain types of gym equipment can be confusing or even dangerous for seniors. Complicated entry and exit barriers and confusing weight and speed options can make many fitness machines difficult to use for older adults.
Some gyms have equipment that features simple-to-use mechanisms to limit seniors’ risk of injury and strain on joints and muscles. Be sure to ask about any such equipment during a tour of a facility.
4. Personal trainers for seniors
While nearly all gyms employ personal trainers, many feature at least one trainer who is accredited to work with seniors by an organization such as the American Senior Fitness Association. Ask about a gym’s personal trainers and if any of them are specially certified to work with older adults.
5. The buddy system
The buddy system is when a gym pairs up one member with another member to give each person a workout partner. Going to the gym with another person can be far less intimidating than going alone, and some gyms will pair up seniors with others of the same age.
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Having a workout buddy can accomplish more than simply helping one overcome their intimidation of the gym. A longer and healthier life can be also be fostered through the social interaction that a buddy system promotes. Studies have shown correlations between social activity and lifespan among older adults.
6. Program membership
Many senior-friendly gyms participate on one or more nationwide programs dedicated to senior health and fitness. See if your local gym takes part in any of the following:
- ICAA. The mission of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA) is to “promote active aging as a solution to improving the quality of life for older adults” and the organization has a facility locator that seniors may use to find a fitness center in their area that is a member of the ICAA.
- SilverSneakers. SilverSneakers is a program that encourages senior adults to be physically active in an effort to maintain their health. Gyms across the country participate in the program by hosting various activities and social events. It’s easy to locate a SilverSneakers gym and some Medicare Advantage or Medicare Supplement Insurance plans even provide coverage for enrollment.
- YMCA Active Older Adults. The YMCA has an Active Older Adults program with classes and workouts designed for people with arthritis, Parkinson’s, and MS along with a range of more general senior fitness routines.
7. Senior-only gyms
Senior-only gyms have been popping up in droves in recent years as the baby boomer generation enters retirement age. It is estimated that some 10,000 Americans will be turning 65 every day for the next couple of decades. Given that projection, it’s easy to see why there is a growing demand for senior-friendly fitness facilities.
A senior-only gym is one that restricts memberships to people who are at least a certain age. Typically entry ages are at least 50, 55, or 60 years old. However, the age restriction is not the only thing that sets these gyms apart.
Senior-only gyms feature low-impact fitness machines that are easy to use. They are also gentle on aging joints and muscles. Programs are designed with older adults in mind. Notably, trainers and instructors are often specifically trained to work with seniors. Some of the staff may even be seniors themselves.
Absence of free weights means fewer loud, banging noises. In addition, instead of blasting modern rap or rock music, background tunes are typically geared toward the tastes of an older generation. And, importantly, the music is played at a lower decibel level.
All in all, these gyms provide an atmosphere that is comfortable for senior adults and will keep them coming back.
One such gym is Nifty after Fifty. It offers the following for people age 50+:
- exercise programs,
- nutritional counseling, and even
- computer-simulated driving practice
Nifty after Fifty operates in 31 locations in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Virginia.
Welcyon is for people 50 and over and offers senior-friendly equipment, one-on-one coaching and special classes at locations in Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, and Idaho.
The bottom line
Older adults can find a safe and welcoming senior-friendly gym so that they can participate in an active lifestyle well into their senior years. It just takes a bit of research.
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This post was originally published on August 25, 2017. It has been reviewed and updated for republication on September 9, 2019.