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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Carolyn Mueller participates in the SilverSneakers class held at the Jorgensen YMCA.

Many in over-50 crowd hitting gym

Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Diane Jackson, front left, and Jan Schwartz, front right, participate in the SilverSneakers class at the Jorgensen YMCA.

After nearly an hour of dance moves, some kicks and stretching exercises, Nancy Sprague has worked up a bit of a sweat over her brow.

But like every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, she’s beginning to bask in the afterglow of her workout.

“You feel so revived,” the 69-year-old retired teacher says.

Sprague regularly attends an aerobics class geared toward seniors at the Jorgenson YMCA in Aboite Township.

And she is one of a growing legion of people who are seeking – and being sought by – gyms across the country: baby boomers who are looking to get into shape as they approach their later years.

That group makes up about 40 percent of memberships at Anytime Fitness at Dupont Landing, which is now in the process of providing exercise classes geared toward those members.

The over-50 crowd makes up about 40 percent of the members at the downtown Anytime Fitness, as well, and the YMCA of Greater Fort Wayne has seen an influx of people in that age group join its ranks.

Even Fort4Fitness saw a 10 percent increase in people older than 50 sign up to participate in various races this weekend.

And according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, research shows that people 55 and older are one of the fastest growing segments of gym memberships.

For many, they’ve been told by their doctors to get healthy. For others, they’re retired and looking for something to do.

“They can’t stay home and sit. They have to be moving,” said Kelsey Cox, the club manager at the Dupont Landing Anytime Fitness.

Sprague was pushed into her aerobics class by her three children, who urged her to get healthy after retiring from a teaching job they felt she may have poured too much time into.

She taught at Harrison Hill Elementary School and described herself as a teacher “24/7.”

Sprague was so passionate about her job as a teacher, she said, she would many times find herself grading papers well after midnight on school nights.

Upon her retirement, she joined her aerobics class – which is geared toward others her age – and has never looked back.

“I would never miss this class,” she says. “Never.”

It’s also provided her with new social activities.

The class was welcoming, she said, and there was no intimidation about what fitness level you were at or what you could do.

As a result, Sprague and some others she’s met through the class now go out for wine or coffee or meet on a regular basis.

“It doesn’t matter what age you are, what size you are, or what hair color you have,” Sprague said.

Jan Schwartz, a classmate of Sprague’s, has been working out for roughly half her life and joined the class to continue her lifestyle.

She did not want to divulge her age, but said it was well above retirement age.

The class makes her feel good, allows her to stay in shape to compete with her bicycling husband and enjoy keeping up with her kids and grandkids, she said.

The class also keeps her memory keen, she said.

“It’s not only working out, but it’s also working out our memory,” Schwartz said, describing how she has to focus on the more complicated aerobic and dance moves.

Sprague’s insurance pays for her classes through SilverSneakers, a fitness program offered by a company called Healthways Inc. and geared to baby boomers and those who are older.

Local YMCAs have made classes specifically for SilverSneakers members and have seen its gym memberships jump as a result, officials said.

“That’s what has really helped us grow by leaps and bounds, getting our older adults into programs,” said Brian West, the senior program director at the Jorgenson YMCA, of SilverSneakers programs.

And it has people like Sprague and Schwartz - those who’ve hardly worked out in their life or those who’ve worked out seemingly forever and continue to do so – getting healthier and better fit.

And, hopefully, allows them to enjoy the later years of life better than previous generations.