In a pandemic plus, older adults pivoted to virtual fitness classes to stay in shape
The pandemic hit older Americans hard, but it also prodded many to jump on the technology bandwagon — including virtual fitness classes. Tech use among older adults has soared over the past two years, across a wide variety of devices and applications.
Still, internet connectivity remains a challenge for the 15% of people over age 50 who have no internet access, according to large-scale AARP survey. Meanwhile, 60% said internet service is too pricey.
While remote learning highlighted the challenges and benefits of internet connectivity for students, many older adults also came to rely on digital connection for socialization, relaxation, and intellectual stimulation during the pandemic. They became more adept at using devices and learned just how fun technology could be.
Thousands of older adults applied their new technology skills to getting in shape. SilverSneakers, a national program that partners with more than 23,000 health clubs nationwide, went virtual early in the pandemic and offers online fitness classes each week and on demand. Trainer Dina Sexton has worked with SilverSneakers for 10 years and currently teaches classes online and in person in the Boston area. The extremely popular virtual classes now gather anywhere from 400 to 1,000 participants.
While the instructor cannot see the participants or offer personal instruction, SilverSneakers staff members monitor the included chat closely. “We use the chat feature to try to help and answer questions. It’s pretty amazing, what [participants] share. It’s really built a community,” Sexton says.
Rush Generations, based out of Rush University System for Health, offers programs geared toward older adults. While not strictly a fitness program, Rush Generations hosts classes and lectures with a focus on healthy aging, according to social worker Grisel Rodriguez-Morales, who manages Rush Generations. The exercise programs include classes in chair yoga and Zumba Gold.
Ravenswood resident Gloria Gates joined the Rush Generations program shortly before the pandemic. The 64-year-old jumped into fitness classes right away. But she didn’t have much time to enjoy them before lockdown hit.
When Rush Generations pivoted to online classes, Gates stayed involved and engaged. In fact, while some of the classes are returning to an in-person format, she plans to stick with the hybrid option still available. “I love the convenience of not having to drive through traffic, and not having to rush and worry about parking,” Gates says. “I’m in my own home. I can say to the instructor, ‘Good morning,’ and then move at my own pace. I am instructed step-by-step and viewed.”
Gates says she learned how to access virtual classes safely through Chicago Public Libraries. Like so many older adults, embracing technology has enabled her to focus on her health during these tumultuous years.
Interested in remote fitness classes for seniors? Check out these options:
AARP: The organization’s chapters around the country offer virtual fitness classes in yoga, stretching, dance, balance, tai chi, and more. These classes are open to all, not just AARP members, but they do require preregistration. See the full list of remote exercise classes.
Chicago Park District: The City of Chicago offers some virtual fitness classes, but they can be difficult to find. To look for them, go to CPD Transaction Portal. Use the filters to search for fitness programs, or scroll through the list to find virtual options.
SilverSneakers: With more more than 70 exercise classes, the organization offers programs online and in person through affiliated health clubs and fitness centers. Find your eligibility for membership through the SilverSneakers website. If you’re eligible through Medicare Advantage, you’ll get access to online classes, classes through local senior centers, and other content — such as meditation classes, lectures, book clubs, mental enrichment activities, and more. Many Medicare Advantage plans cover SilverSneakers; check for coverage eligibility on the plan’s website.
Rush Generations: This free program for adults of any age, focuses on healthy aging. You do not need to be a patient at Rush to join. The program offers lectures, workshops, and fitness classes, as well as one-on-one assistance with technology, including setting up an email address and learning to use Zoom. Membership is free, but some fitness classes have modest fees. Scholarships are available. Visit the website, or call (800) 757-0202 to sign up.