My friend Nicky went to her regular dance aerobics class recently, and a new teacher had taken over the class. The instructor opened with: “I was told this is a group of mostly older adults so I should plan to take it a little easier on you.” Nicky said she and the other students looked around at each other and then back at the new teacher and proceeded to set her straight about the fact that just because they’re older, doesn’t mean they aren’t active. Nicky spoke up saying, “We’re here to move, so teach us like you would any other class, and we’ll take breaks if we need to.”
The instructor wasn’t at all expecting that response, but she gave them the benefit of the doubt. Nicky said the class ended up exceeding her expectations, livened up by a new teacher’s fresh perspective.
Luckily, the Bay Area offers group fitness classes and other activities for older adults at all different levels and intensities; you just have to scope them out and find what’s right for you. But this common expectation that older adults are less capable of activity may be standing in your aging loved one’s way. Sometimes, when older adults come to adopt this assumption for themselves, they become discouraged from participating in energetic activities. Then they become out of shape, fulfilling the misguided prophecy. Let’s squash this generalization right now and, from a fresh cultural perspective, prepare to be amazed by what our aging loved ones are capable of when they find the activities and the communities that inspire them to move!
Community Encourages Older Adults to Focus on Wellness
If we’ve fallen into that assumption that our only option is to slow down as we age, we’re going to have to find a welcoming path on which we can pick up speed again. Even for those who have kept in touch with their active, thriving bodies, getting active in the midst of community can wake up the spirit as well.
This and every spring, close to 2000 residents over the age of 50 will compete in the Bay Area Senior Games in basketball, archery, pickleball, swimming, water polo, volleyball, and even a triathlon—more than 20 sporting events in total. The chair of the California Senior Games, Anne Cribbs, is a former Olympic gold medalist in swimming. “Our motto is the competition never ends,” she says.
That thrill of competition is very habit-forming, very addictive. It’s the same thing we love about the Olympics—the celebration of human potential and what you can do. […] We get people who are very familiar with their sport—maybe they played it in high school. And we get people who don’t know which swimsuit to wear to the swim meet. It’s all over the map.
This kind of contagious athletic spirit and healthy competition Cribbs describes is the same kind of energy that brings Nicky back to her North Bay Area dance group twice a week. It doesn’t matter that people are at different skill and energy levels—in fact, that’s part of what makes these activities so open and accessible for older adults.
These active opportunities are also confronting the greater risks of illness, degeneration of muscles and bones, and even social isolation that comes with aging. Participants face these challenges head on with the same kind of zeal Nicky and her aerobics group promoted, and they’re even more courageous and more active thanks to the community that strives and supports right alongside them.
Discover Group Fitness Classes for Older Adults in the Bay
The key to getting active, especially if you’ve been out of touch with this part of yourself for a while, is to find an activity that really interests you—and a group that you resonate with. Just diving in to explore different possibilities is the start of renewing your inner spark. What you find here is nowhere near a complete list; the Bay Area’s offerings are as diverse as its population of older adults, but it’s a place to start. Also keep your ears open for opportunities that your friends and connections are already involved with. In those cases, you may step in already feeling that supportive sense of community.
A fitness program covered by many health plans, SilverSneakers offers a wide variety of groups and classes at gyms and fitness centers around the Bay Area—and at no cost for those who are eligible. Classes include yoga, Zumba (on land and in the pool), water aerobics, and exercise classes that teach you how to use a fun range of props for resistance like weights, bands, and balls. In some classes, you may even have the option of participating in a chair.
You might have preconceived notions about gym culture and feel that you won’t fit in, but each individual class develops a community culture all its own. You might even feel free to speak up to the teacher the way Nicky’s group did, so the class can evolve purposefully around the group participants. You can check your eligibility for the SilverSneakers program by filling out this form. And this online guide can help you find available classes near you. You can also look out for FLEX events through SilverSneakers that take dynamic activities out of the fitness centers and into the community.
Bay Area Older Adults
This non-profit organization strives to offer older adults in the Bay Area an exciting range of activities to help them stay connected to culture, nature, community service, good food, and fitness and wellness. If you’re in the East Bay, the Peninsula, or the South Bay areas, BayAreaOlderAdults.org offers comprehensive lists of yoga, martial arts, and other exercise classes, and from there you can learn more about specific opportunities. There’s also a wonderful section that can guide you toward outdoor activities in your area, like hiking, horseback riding, bicycling, community gardening, and other opportunities. A basic membership is free and may lead you to some unique options for active community involvement.
The San Francisco Senior Center
At its Aquatic Park location, the San Francisco Senior Center hosts an extensive schedule of enrichment and wellness activities. You could be involved in an Acting and Self Expression group one day and a Qi Gong or Ping Pong group the next. The Senior Center is a community hub for older adults in San Francisco, and you can expect to find a welcoming and inclusive environment regardless of your interests, abilities, and skill level. Here would be the perfect place to try something out that you’ve never done before. To get involved, reach out for more information. You can purchase an annual membership at $70 individually or for $125 per household.
Bay Area Meetup Groups
Another bountiful hub of activities is a free-to-join online program called Meetup. You can search for groups that get together in your area and share in certain interests and activities. Once you’ve signed up with Meetup, you can reach out to join specific groups and gather more information about upcoming events. The following are just a small collection of the diverse gatherings throughout the Bay Area:
- Daytime Dances (Adults 50+) @ Belmont
- 60+ Mid-Peninsula Active Singles
- Strength and Movement, Pilates in Corte Madera
- San Francisco Golden Gate Park Tai Chi Weekend Meetup
- Pickleball Hayward
It may be your interests that lead you into the right opportunity to get moving with a spirited group, or it may be your social connections or inclinations that help you to find the active community where you fit in and feel inspired. However it happens for you is the right way because, ultimately, it will help you to get more in touch with your body that is meant to move and to connect with the world and to the community around it.
Institute on Aging believes that staying active physically and socially is an important part of everyday life—regardless of your age. We have a wealth of ideas and resources to help you get connected and get active, so reach out for more information.