Forget frail old age: A growing number of aging baby boomers have discovered the world of serious weight-training. From overweight folks who just want to feel better to dedicated 60-plus bodybuilders, the weight machine has become the new rocking chair. In a report by Sunday Morning correspondent Dr. Emily Senay, we meet the current senior National Bodybuilding Champion, a Manhattan gerontologist who preached a healthy lifestyle for years and is now taking her own medicine, and the legendary figure behind the modern fitness industry, Jack LaLanne.
We've heard the old saw about how you're never too old to get started. Truth is, most Americans tend to avoid heavy workouts, BUT there is a growing number of seniors who seem to live for them.
Ten years ago, Scott Hults was a Navy Reserve captain, and a prime candidate for serious illness.
"I was told I had some symptoms of diabetes," Hults said. "That kind of worried me because my father and grandfather died of diabetes at early ages."
So Hults hit the gym ... hard. Before long, he began to look like a competitive bodybuilder and, at the urging of his wife, Hults became one. The former sailor, who was often the oldest guy on the stage, became known as "Old Navy."
Last year, at the age of 64, Scott Hults won a championship in the over-60 division.
But Hults is the exception: There are 78 million baby boomers, with 8,000 turning 60 every day, or about 330 every hour. And most can't even come CLOSE to Hults' level of fitness, says Dr. Roseanne Leipzig, a professor of geriatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
"Nobody exercises enough, okay? Seniors are no different in that way," Dr. Leipzig said. "But the other thing that happens as we get older is that our body compositions change. And we become, unfortunately, more fat and less lean body mass. Most of us know this personally, okay? So that men go from being about 18 percent fat to 33 percent fat. Women, unfortunately, start at about 33 percent and go to almost 50 percent. So what is lean body mass? It's your muscles and your bone. And that's what you're losing as you get older."
And exercise can help you keep it. At Manhattan's 92nd Street Y, Dr, Leipzig practices what she preaches:
"I'd say I'm a convert. I think I grew up in a generation where doing exercise, doing anything physical was thought as if it were something not to be desired, okay? And now I feel pride in the strength that I have, in the way my body looks, in how I feel."
Leipzig says that, in general, her fellow baby boomers are taking better care of themselves.
"I think in general, the boomers are starting to recognize that it's 'move it or lose it.' And they're gonna be moving it and trying to make sure that their bodies stay in the best shape possible," Dr. Leipzig said.
And that desire to be physically fit might have been inspired by something boomers saw on black and white TV many years ago.
The fitness revolution WAS televised, and Jack LaLanne was the firebrand with a vision of a fitter world.
Now 93, Jack LaLanne still works out two hours every morning, mostly on equipment he designed, like the device in his home pool that allows to him to swim against a current.
Lalanne and his wife Elaine were married in 1959. She's 82, and healthier now than when they met.
"She was skinny, just terrible," he recalled. "She was smoking cigarettes and all that stuff.
"I had two fried eggs! No bustline!" Elaine said.
Today, the LaLanne empire is built on things like health food machines and books, including the latest one, "Fiscal Fitness: 8 Steps to Wealth and Health from America's Leaders of Fitness and Finance," about how to keep your finances in order if you really do get in shape and live longer than you expected.
But Jack LaLanne's message is unchanged since those first days on TV: Whatever your age or condition, start moving now.
"You've got to work at it!" Lalanne said. "Dying is easy. Living is an athletic event. You've got to train for it. But the time you put in taking care of this wonderful body and your health is minimal compared to the results you're gonna get."
And to those slightly older Americans who say aches and pains prevent them from exercising? Jack says, "You show me somebody over 40 or 50 who doesn't have an ache or a pain, I'll show you a liar!"
Jack LaLanne will turn 94 in September. His goal, quite literally, is to be living proof that his philosophy of diet and exercise was right all along.
"It's an ego thing. Here I'm going to be 94. I want to see how long I can keep this up, using me as an example, right? But the average person if they would work out 20 or 30 minutes three times a week, that's plenty - if it's vigorous."
If you think you can't achieve any level of fitness, let alone be like Jack, you're probably wrong. Here are some tips:
- Check with your doctor first.
- Start low and go slow, set small goals - baby steps. One of the biggest reasons people throw in the towel is they expect too much too soon, so take it easy.
- Aerobics doesn't have to mean a bone crunching, Jane Fonda-style, braided headband sweat-o-thon. Studies have shown simply walking a total of 30 minutes a day can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, and you don't have to do it all at once.
- Once you're on track, consider adding resistance training or weightlifting into your routine. If you don't know how to do it, check out the local Y, gym or senior center.
The goal is to feel good so you WANT to keep up your routine, and that can be as simple as walking the mall in Minnesota, teeing off in California, or hitting the pool in Florida.
Jack LaLanne says he wants to stay active as long as he's physically able, and for the relatively youthful Scott Hults, there is no finish line, either:
"As far as I'm concerned, I'm gonna keep doing push-ups and sit-ups and pull-ups and bicep curls until I'm dead. And I hope one of these days, when I do die, I'll be dying in the middle of record-setting bench press," he laughs, "right here in the gym!"