- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — At 65, Lillian Doran knows what she doesn’t want from a gym.

“I don’t want a place that just caters to the young and thin,” she said. “I don’t want to be around these babies who are a size 2.”

Mrs. Doran, a petite, fit-looking woman herself, wants a place that makes people her age feel comfortable — and these days, that’s not so hard to find.

People older than 55 represent nearly a quarter of all health club members, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. The increase has been the defining change in the fitness center industry in the past 15 years.

Gyms that vied for the youth market with snazzy juice bars and tanning salons now offer low-impact courses such as water aerobics, walking or chair aerobics, which aren’t as tough on the joints.

Baby boomers are the fastest growing group at gyms as membership among all age groups rises. There were 41.3 million gym members in the United States in 2004, a 35 percent increase from 1999.

Americans are finding themselves with more leisure time for exercise, said Richard Cotton, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise. And as overall gym membership swells, clubs will likely focus on burgeoning niche markets, he said.

Curves, a chain based on a 30-minute circuit workout, has already found success by homing in on women who consider themselves health-club novices. Mrs. Doran is just one of the millions of women who have found their comfort level there. According to the company’s Web site, there are nearly 8,000 Curves locations in the United States.

The popularity of Curves has spawned an industry of similar chains targeting middle-aged and older men, and one chain in California tailors its 30-minute workout for families.

Many seniors and baby boomers are flocking to these tailored chains or other low-profile gyms where they feel at ease. Eileen Bates, 43, said that’s why she chose the YMCA when she first joined a gym five years ago.

“There’s no competition,” she said. “People aren’t there to look at what other people are wearing. It’s not a fashion show.”

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