Senior fitness classes mean big business

They want classes later in the day, they want low-impact exercises -- and they certainly want the senior-citizen discount.

Baby boomers and other older adults who want to stay fit are increasingly asking for more of their local exercise outlets, instructors and class leaders.

Just ask Trish Feinthel, chief operating officer for the Doylestown YMCA and managing COO for the Lower Bucks Family Y, which operate under the Central Bucks Family YMCA umbrella.

Since she took the job in 2011, Feinthel said, the number of older adults coming in has grown year over year, so much so that the YMCA in Doylestown created a committee called Senior Voices.

"Seniors are the leading growth demographic in Central Bucks. Since establishing that committee, membership retention increased, and it's partly because we listen now more than ever," she said.

Older adults don't want yoga classes at 6:30 a.m., Feinthel said. "We're also getting high requests for gentle yoga and -- believe it not -- no classes early in the morning. They deserve the right to sleep in, so we now offer gentle yoga in the late morning. They don't want to rush anymore, and they want more connections."

In January, Central Bucks Family YMCA will launch something called the "Matinee Membership," which will allow older adults to come in and use the facilities between 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Though an individual older-adult membership costs $53 a month, $88 for an older-adult couple, a "Silver Matinee" membership will cost $30 a month. The nonprofit facility also offers financial assistance, and many seniors have gym memberships like Silver Sneakers covered through their insurance.

Feinthel noted that the Number One trend among seniors who stay fit is their love for "anything in the water."

"Those classes are growing very quickly," she said. "What's difficult with pools is that you only have so much space. But seniors like the cameraderie and the buoyancy, and they just want more and more of it."

The merged Central Bucks Family YMCA has 3,698 active older-adult members (over age 65) among its 20,649 members. That includes the Doylestown and Warminster Y branches, as well as the Lower Bucks branches in Fairless Hills and Newtown.

Growth trend. Providing exercise classes and other health and fitness services to older Americans is a fast-growing business, as brands and franchise owners seek to capitalize on an aging U.S. population and low costs of entry.

This year, Kaya Aerial Yoga, at 225 Quarry St. in Center City, added "Young at Heart: Anti-Aging Aerial Yoga for Older Adults," an afternoon class geared toward women 50-and-up that takes into account the changing fitness of mature females. (Fee and other information: kayaaerialyoga.com).

"Older clients with arthritis like the aerial yoga. It's great for pain relief, relieves inflammation and swelling, takes away weight and gravity on the knees and ankles," said Carrie Ann Felinczak, co-owner and instructor at Kaya Aerial.

"After taking a few classes, the seniors come in with more confidence and better posture," Felinczak added. "We have a woman in her seventies who's become so strong in our classes. We have a lot of older clients coming in now."

And the need is only expanding: People age 55 and older notice a difference in balance as they lose strength in their legs, and exercise helps those who have problems with arthritis and prevents them from falling, say trainers such as Devin Wirt, president of Transformation Fitness, a company that serves residential facilities and senior centers in Philadelphia and throughout the East Coast.

The majority of senior facilities Wirt's company serves in Philadelphia operate under the SELF brand. SELF stands for Seniors Empowered for Lifelong Fitness, and is a program ran by the New Courtland network. Transformation Fitness provides and manages the fitness professionals for the program.

"We've found that what keeps seniors engaged in fitness is anything to do with music," Wirt said. "And it's all kinds: gospel, Motown, Michael Buble, even Run-D.M.C."

At locations such as NewCourtland Senior Center at 509 S. Broad St. and the Philadelphia Senior Center at 19th Street and Allegheny Avenue, Wirt's instructors say, the trends among exercise lovers include tai chi, walking groups, Zumba, seated strength training, and dance classes such as tap and ballroom.

There are some nominal fees for the classes, but "mostly they are funded through the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging and some donors such as United Way," said Michael Hagarty,  director of communications for NewCourtland Senior Services.

For more information on senior fitness classes, visit PCA's website (pcacares.org). At "Events," check the "Exercise" schedule under "Health & Fitness."

Fund-raising benefitsFor Bob Williams, surviving prostate cancer was just the beginning of a slog back to health. Then he signed up for THRIVE Cancer Wellness at the Central Bucks Family YMCA, a program for cancer survivors.

"It teaches you how to get your health back to where it was before cancer," he said.

THRIVE is a 12-week group personal-training program designed for people who have become de-conditioned or chronically fatigued from battling cancer.

With the guidance of personal trainers, participants build back muscle mass and muscular strength, increase flexibility and cardiovascular endurance, and improve functional ability. The goal is to help cancer survivors develop their own physical-fitness regimens so that they can continue their exercise activities after completing the program.

For the Central Bucks Y, the class has, in turn, generated sizable donations: About 150 THRIVE alums who survived cancer or are in remission just donated $12,000 from a fund raiser they threw to give back to the YMCA.

Williams, 60, said he took the class in the last quarter of 2014, and "improved my health and my diet. It gave me my life back and gave me hope."