Fitness, boomer-style

Disappointed by youth-oriented health clubs, Cleo Chmielinski creates her own…and business is booming.

During a routine check-up with her doctor, Cleo Chmielinski received advice that may sound familiar: find a way to incorporate more exercise into your life.

After years of finding excuses not to exercise, Cleo finally took this advice to heart and started searching for a health club. But she was turned off by the entire scene. “I didn’t feel very comfortable with all the 20-somethings in spandex,” says Cleo, who is a 40-something baby boomer. “Even worse, I found the trainers generally weren’t interested in my needs. They seemed more interested in the younger members.”

And from that experience, the idea for Avalon Woods – a health club geared toward mature adults – was born. “I thought to myself: there must be people like me, searching for a health club more suited for mature needs and tastes,” Cleo says of her decision to open the club.

While health clubs oriented toward older adults is a growing trend in the United States, Avalon Woods may be the only one of its kind in Canada, Cleo says. But this could soon change. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, older adults are hitting gyms and health clubs in record numbers. The group says health club membership for people over 55 grew by 343 per cent from 1987 to 2003, while the number of members in the 35-54 age group increased by 180 per cent.

Located in Etobicoke, Ontario, Avalon Woods focuses not only on fitness, but what is called the six dimensions of wellness: physical, occupational, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual. While the average age for members is 57, most are in their 40s. The oldest member is currently 86.

Personalized fitness program
Members of Avalon Woods not only have use of unique “boomer-friendly” equipment – such as recumbent bicycles designed for people with mobility restriction – but they have their own personal support team. Specially trained to deal with health issues for the 50plus such as osteoporosis, diabetes and heart conditions, the health club staff gives each member an extensive lifestyle assessment. Using this information, a trainer then creates a fitness program specifically tailored to a member’s needs (working with a person’s physician if necessary) and then orients them to specialized equipment.

“As a baby boomer, I have become acutely aware of the benefits of exercise combined with healthy eating,” says Hilda Mackow, a business executive and member of Avalon Woods. “However, finding a health club that is serious about the health and well-being of mature adults was not an easy task, until I found the Avalon Woods. The professional trainers are truly committed to designing personalized programs that work.”

Hilda says that like many women, she has joined a number of health clubs over the years – but this is the first time she feels she is truly benefiting. “What continues to impress me is their daily attention in ensuring you are doing your exercises correctly and the wonderful ambience they create,” she says.