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Cane-fu and '50s music: Special gyms open up for US baby boomers

America's aging baby boomers are getting into shape and new fitness centers — with age-specific machines, classes, and classic tunes — are popping up across the country.

More and more seniors are staying active and healthy these days. In this 2010 file photo, Carol Suplicki, center front, uses small weights for conditioning. Residents of North Oaks - a continuing care retirement center for seniors - attend a bi-weekly aerobics and conditioning class.

Melanie Stetson Freeman

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Baby boomers, the generation that vowed to stay forever young, are getting older, designing senior-friendly gyms, and becoming their own personal trainers.

In exercise havens for the over-50 set, the cardio machines are typically low impact, the resistance training is mainly air-powered and some group fitness classes are taken sitting down.

At Welcyon gyms, founded by husband-and-wife boomers Suzy and Tom Boerboom, the average age of members is 62.

"The environment is really designed for those 50 and over," said Suzy Boerboom.

The couple created Welcyon, which has locations in Minnesota and South Dakota, in 2009. It has no tread-mills and no free weights and workouts are customized to members' levels of fitness. A smart card sets resistance, counts repetitions, and adjusts workouts.

An important attraction for many boomers: background music is a combination of '40s, '50s, and '60s tunes played at a much lower volume than in traditional gyms.

"It was something I could manage," said 66-year-old Bill Zortman, one of an estimated 78 million baby boomers, defined as the group born between 1946 and 1964, who make up about 26 percent of the US population, according to US Census reports.

His thrice-weekly workouts at a Welcyon in Sioux Falls, S.D., consists of riding a bicycle or using air-powered resistance machines to strengthen his legs, arms, and back.

"They make sure I'm not overdoing it," Zortman said of the staff, who Boerboom said are often boomers themselves.

The absence of clanging free weights also cuts down on the racket, Boerboom said, noting that many people over 50 prefer a quieter gym.

Group fitness classes for boomers are also modified.

"We're just beginning to develop a group fitness interval training program," Boerboom said. "It will be four to six people and low impact."

The American Council on Exercise says many of their fitness professionals are baby boomers who specialize in working with older adults.


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