When I ask my grandparents on the phone what’s new, they usually answer that they’re sticking to the routine: going to the gym three times a week, spending time with my younger cousins, and sprinkling in a lecture, film screening, or day trip. I’m always impressed by their dedication to exercise long past retirement age, and every time, I make a mental note that I should be (at least) matching their frequency of gym visits.
New York’s population is getting older, and Long Island is aging at an even faster clip than the state average. As baby boomers pass the half-century mark and the 65-and-over population grows, older adults and seniors looking to get or stay active, improve their health, or be part of a social activity have a host of options. Gyms, community and senior centers, assisted living facilities, libraries, towns, continuing education programs and instructors across Long Island offer some options geared specifically toward them.
“The body is meant to move,” says Heidi Roussis, fitness program coordinator at Sid Jacobsen JCC in East Hills. “As we get older, we tend to have movement less a part of our lives,” she says, but it’s especially important. “Movement is always going to benefit you.”
The social aspect can be just as important as the physical for seniors. “It’s very important that people of that age have a place that’s social for them to go,” says Lauren Singer, who has taught Zumba Gold at the Y in Huntington and through the town. “It’s beneficial, to reduce loneliness.”
Instructors always advise consulting with a doctor and getting medical clearance before starting a new exercise routine. It’s also a good idea for students to let an instructor know they’re brand new and talk about any injuries or limitations.
Here are five senior-friendly options for exercise on Long Island. Read more about each one here.
The popular dance fitness craze is in gyms all over Long Island. The “gold” version uses “the same Latin rhythms,” says Ronnie Gilbert of Golden Girls Fitness in Deer Park, “but all the steps are moderate for the aging, the active adult, beginners, or people coming back from injury.”
For those who want to trade dry land for a pool, aqua aerobics and aqua fitness classes can be geared toward a general senior crowd or to people suffering from arthritis. “Water programs are allowing people to do more,” says Roussis -- who oversees aquatics classes of both types at Sid Jacobsen JCC -- to “stay healthy and fit without aggravating joints and injuries.”
Yoga is here, there, and everywhere on Long Island. But for some, getting up and down from a mat can be a challenge. As an alternative, seniors can search for yoga classes that use a chair. Benefits include improved balance -- which is essential for seniors -- as well as strength and flexibility, just as with mat yoga, says Lore Kent, a chair yoga instructor on Long Island.
Tai Chi is really a traditional martial art, says Teresa White, who teaches at the Long Island Center for Yoga in Babylon, but many programs adjust the practice; they offer Tai Chi-based exercises that are friendly to older adults. “I view Tai Chi as a preventive measure that people should start as early as possible,” White said.
For seniors who don’t have the right fitness classes nearby -- or who want to add to their routine -- there are always online videos or virtual classes. A few years ago, North Hempstead offered a yoga class via Skype through its Project Independence. Many sites, like this one by Mike Ross, host videos specifically geared toward older adults.