The message of “The Endless Summer,” the mid-1960s surf documentary, was that given sufficient means to travel the world, it was possible to chase the perfect wave year-round. That hedonistic ideal filtered down through tamer bikini-dance movies, Beach Boys lyrics and television’s “Gidget,” and manifested itself in the desire to have it all — perpetual youthfulness included.
It’s understandable. Baby boomers, generally thought of as born between 1946 and 1964, were wooed and marketed to as a kid subculture because of their buying power. The same purchasing leverage behind Wham-O’s claim of selling 25 million hula hoops in the four months after its introduction in 1958, today gives boomers endless options to pursue their best selves. For those consumed with work, career and family, that includes the convenience of fitness training at home.
“Optimal health and wellness,” is what Sandra Smalls, a Jamaica resident and certified fitness consultant, says her clients, mostly baby boomers, seek. The ones in their 40s want the energy to keep up with their kids and to be in better shape than their parents were at their age. Her other clients, ages 50- and 60-plus, besides wanting to look their youngest, are concerned about health issues they’ll face if they don’t exercise. They book Smalls through her BeneFit Personal Training, and she brings the gym gear to them.
Looming large for boomer women is the threat of osteoporosis, which means starting early on weight-bearing activities. “You don’t want to wait until post-menopause,” Smalls said. Bone loss and weak muscles lead to difficulties with balance.
“A lot of people find that their balance is completely off because it’s never been challenged,” she said. Smalls uses stability balls and inflatable discs to test and develop her clients’ steadiness. Exercises such as bicep curls done while standing on one leg or sitting on a stability ball strengthen the core (torso) muscles, which help in regaining balance and recovering from slips.
And if you have an injury, look to your neighborhood YMCA’s swimming pool for no-impact water aerobics to aid in your recovery. Nita Zackson, fitness coordinator for the Cross Island YMCA in Bellerose, recommends seeing a physical therapist first, and when you’re good to go, try water walking. It builds strength gradually and is also suitable for anyone who’s overweight, as is Aqua Jog, an easy-on-the-joints cardio workout set to music. No swimming expertise is necessary. The class is taught in the deep end of the pool with participants wearing “a bubble” (belt with attached foam block) to stay afloat.
To avoid injuries, Zackson advocates a stretch and 10-minute warm-up of gradually intensifying cardio before workouts. Afterward, reverse the warm-up for a cool-down.
For a non-aquatic class geared to adults 55 and older, try Master Fitness. It incorporates low-impact aerobics, light hand weights and abs work, said Zackson, who also likes chair aerobics. “It’s very vigorous and suitable for any age group,” she said, with the practical application of strengthening the muscles needed to get in and out of a car. For balance and strength training with a mind-body component, Zackson recommends t’ai chi. Find it at the Cross Island, Flushing, Jamaica and Long Island City YMCA branches.
Sifu (teacher), Michael Ferstendig, has taught t’ai chi ch’uan at the Queens Judo Center in Forest Hills since 1995. “The exercise itself is not particularly strenuous,” he said. “The emphasis is on body relaxation.”
Ferstendig teaches the Yang style, a short form of 27 unique postures with some repeated for 60 in all, executed in a continuous movement for approximately 11 minutes. With daily practice and a weekly class, most everyone becomes competent enough to perform it by themselves in 12 months or less.
“It is low-impact because even stepping is done very softly,” Ferstendig said, making it suitable for his students, many of whom are in their late 40s.
T’ai chi ch’uan originated as a core exercise from a more complex martial art and is traditionally practiced outdoors in the early morning. “It involves transferring weight from one leg to another in a very slow and measured way,” he said. That’s great for balance, but you’ll need to add some aerobics to boost your metabolism rate if it’s weight management you want.
Smalls recommends daily cardio. “You don’t have to do a solid 30-40 minutes,” she said. Get off before your usual bus or subway stop and walk. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. “It adds up,” she said.