Yoga classes. Circuit training. And now Zumba, the fitness phenomenon that's taking over where step aerobics left off, is the latest group exercise trend being embraced by seniors who want to shape up.
The elder-friendly version, Zumba Gold, has popped up at senior centers, gyms and retirement communities. It keeps original Zumba's Latin party vibe, giving participants a workout while dancing to salsa and merengue beats. However, Gold classes scale back on the high-impact and tricky moves.
"Once something gets popular, a lot of people want to do it," said Dr. Orly Avitzur, a neurologist and medical adviser for Consumer Reports. "We drag our friends, our sisters and our mothers along with us."
Avitzur has seen two generations of the same family doing Zumba together.
At the Northwest Focal Point Senior Center in Margate, Fla., tables and chairs were pushed aside on a Tuesday morning and 17 women gathered in the center of the lunchroom. Loretta Bartley, 93, stood behind her walker. Everyone had on tennis shoes (except a woman in ballet flats); another wore a fuzzy lavender, short-sleeved sweater.
Shaking and singing
Within 10 minutes, they were shaking, sidestepping and smiling as Latina superstar singer Shakira purred in Spanish through the CD player: "You know I want ya! You got a lot of the sex appeal." Pop standard "Hit the Road Jack" followed later, and everyone sang along.
"It keeps me active and keeps my brain moving, too," said Pat Kramer, 73, a retired school crossing guard sporting a star-spangled headband.
She and her classmates like Zumba for all of the reasons group fitness is particularly popular with senior women, experts say: They have fun and make new friends.
Joy Prouty, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette with 45 years in the exercise industry, didn't forget that fact when she and her business partner joined forces with Zumba Fitness six years ago to create Zumba Gold.
"There is a big social factor to these classes," said Prouty, 71, of Delray Beach, Fla. "As people get older in life, they may have lost a spouse."
And it was important that the Gold version stick with its rockin' roots, added Prouty, a Zumba education specialist for South Florida-based Zumba Fitness: "This older population, we love dancing. It's something we grew up with. Zumba has the reputation of being fun, and we didn't want to diminish that."
Zumba has several specialty programs, such as Zumbatomic for kids, but Gold is one of the most popular. Different types of facilities can offer Zumba Gold as long as they use instructors certified by Zumba Fitness trainers.
As with any exercise regimen, fitness experts say that seniors should be cautious about busting new moves and check with their physicians before starting classes.
Avitzur, who wrote about Zumba dangers this summer, said she and her medical colleagues have seen lateral knee injuries, back strain and ankle sprains due to wrong-way Zumba sashays.
Part of the problem is that lively fitness classes often attract retirees who, suddenly free from work and family responsibilities, are regularly exercising for the first time in their lives. Novices quickly can get hooked on an endorphin-fueled high, Avitzur said, setting themselves up for overexertion and injury.
Anita D'Angelo, an instructor at Florida Atlantic University exercise science and health promotion department, said many types of classes, including spinning and kickboxing, could work for older adults as long as they're adjusted for age-related physical changes. And group fitness often helps people of all ages stick with their exercise routine -- although D'Angelo warns seniors not to get carried away.
"It's very funny; when people take a class, they sometimes are inspired by the others to keep going when they shouldn't," said D'Angelo, who coordinates the FAU-Well fitness program for seniors. "Seniors should understand they need to work at their own pace."
SENIOR FITNESS CLASS TIPS
Talk to your doctor before you begin a new fitness class, especially if you have exercised very little before.
People who have heart or kidney disease, asthma, emphysema, high blood pressure, arthritis, osteoporosis or disc herniations should take special care with high-intensity exercise.
Go watch a class before signing up. Are participants offered lower-impact alternative moves and encouraged to go at their own pace? Does the instructor monitor how each class member is doing and give individual instruction?
Check instructor's credentials. Zumba Gold teachers must be licensed specifically for that class. Check at zumba.com. Additional credentials are desirable: Check National Academy of Sports Medicine at nasm.org (put "credential validation tool" in site search field) or call 800-460-6276. A college degree in exercise physiology is ideal.
Sources: Anita D'Angelo at FAU-Well Program, Dr. Orly Avitzur for Consumer Reports
find a class
Go to www.zumba.com/gold.