A new breed of super-fit downsizers are staying forever young thanks to high-energy wellness programs and cutting-edge gyms within retirement communities.
There’s a popular but misguided view that exercise in retirement communities revolves around gardening, a gentle stroll around the village and the odd geriatic-level class of aqua aerobics. In the modern retirement community, this is no longer the case.
Downsizing.com.au has discovered that one retirement village chain is currently holding a national championship for ‘planking’, where residents hold themselves off the floor on their elbows for minutes on end.
Other communities have imported the latest overseas gym equipment, which is specifically designed for seniors to keep mentally and physically fit.
What’s more, age is no barrier to being fit - retirement community operators report that residents in their 80s and even 90s are among those enjoying a high-energy approach to fitness.
During 2020, national retirement living chain Living Choice has been holding ‘planking challenges’ among its villages.
For the uninitiated, ‘planking’ involves laying down and then holding yourself up with your toes and elbows - in other words turning your body into a ‘human plank’. It may look easy, but is in fact devilishly difficult and many people struggle to stay in position for more than 30 seconds.
It’s also great for strengthening your abdominal muscles and spine and improving your posture.
In August, Living Choice Twin Waters resident Paul Colebrook, aged in his 60s, set the organisation’s new record by planking for 10 minutes and five seconds. Paul’s wife Anna is currently third place holder with a ‘plank’ of seven minutes and eight seconds.
At a separate event at Living Choice Kawana Island, 92-year-old Ray Trestrail planked for an incredible four minutes and 45 seconds.
All Living Choice villages contain a gym, while Living Choice Fullarton and Woodcroft in Adelaide have wellness centres.
The organisation has a particular focus on “resisted training” - such as planking, weights and chin-ups - because this type of workout supports healthy bone density and joint tissue repair.
Queensland residential land lease operator Halcyon has gyms across all its communities.
The gym at Halcyon Greens at Pimpama on the Gold Coast deserves special mention.
It contains $100,000 worth of cardio and weights equipment along with two SMART Fit brain training stations. These brain training machines require participants to take part in rapid-fire activities which help them stay physically fit and mentally sharp.
Halcyon Greens also has eight pickleball courts, the most of any facility in Australia.
“We have homeowners in their late 80s and 90s who are active and regularly exercise,” a Halcyon spokeswoman said. One Halcyon community resident, John Ware, managed to avoid the need for knee surgery by attending seven exercise classes per week which strengthened the muscle around his knee.
Village Retirement Group
The Queensland-based Village Retirement Group runs programs to help older people maintain their mobility and prevent them from deteriorating both physically and mentally.
“In the past, it’s been thought that keeping a person’s mind active with activities such as Sudoku were enough to help them maintain cognitive function,” said Village Retirement Group physiotherapist and exercise physiologist Miles Browning.
“Now research has revealed that doing high intensity cardiovascular activities that increases blood flow to the brain is what’s needed to ensure a well-functioning cognitive system.”
Mr Browning said he’s noticed many residents making significant progress, including one person who was able to cease using his walker and begin to again walk independently.
At its new Kaduna Park community, Victorian land lease community operator Lifestyle Communities will soon be installing gym machines with fully integrated touchscreens with a TV interface, virtual programs and immersive scenery.
“We are big supporters of local businesses around our communities and have great working relationships with personal trainers who we engage to provide gym inductions and help homeowners get the most out of their gyms,” a Lifestyle Communities spokesperson said.
Lifestyle Communities’ oldest gym-goer, at Casey Fields, is aged 90-years-old.
National retirement village operator RetireAustralia says its communities feature an array of facilities to exercise and stay healthy including gyms, pools and bowling greens.
RetireAustralia Chief Executive Officer Dr Brett Robinson said tailored exercise programs, age-specific gyms and recreational areas encouraged residents to adopt active and healthy lifestyles.
“Indeed, there are plenty of examples in our villages of the transformations residents can make,” Dr Robinson said.
“The facilities also foster social interaction. This is important because we know from our own research that people are looking to form friendships and socialise more when they move into a retirement village.
Greg and Lyn Hines, of RetireAustralia’s Glengara Retirement Village on the NSW Central Coast, are regular users of the community’s gym, which will soon benefit from $15,000 in new equipment including treadmills, exercise bikes and a multi-weight station.
“We’ve been exercising regularly, including gym workouts for about 10 years now,” said Mr Hines. “We are firm believers that this is one of the things you need to do to keep fit and healthy once you reach a certain age. Of everything I have ever read or heard about getting older, exercising is in there somewhere.”
The couple generally walk about four kilometres three times a week on the gym’s treadmills, in addition to working out with weights.
Another Glengara resident, Theresa Harris, made a dramatic improvement in managing a condition known as Inclusion Body Myositis (IBM), which attacks the muscles of her arms and legs, making walking extremely difficult.
After consulting with Glengara’s visiting physiotherapist, who designed a program of exercises to strengthen unaffected muscles, Mrs Harris began daily swim sessions in the community’s 16-metre heated pool.
Gradually rebuilding some of her strength, she now rarely needs to use the disability scooter or walker and only occasionally a cane for security. She has even re-discovered her love for lawn bowls, which she thought was lost to her.
Palm Lake Resorts
Residents of land lease and retirement living community operator Palm Lake have access to technologically-advanced gyms.
The Palm Lake Group has signed a multi-year deal with European-based fitness company Milon. The Milon circuit consists of 12 connected strength and cardio machines, which respond to the individual needs of users.
Milon smart gyms are installed in all of Palm Lake Group’s newest resort locations including Palm Lake Resort Cooroy-Noosa, Bargara, Beachmere, Caloundra and Toowoomba.
Milon Australia managing director Marcin Lazinski says residents are encouraged to complete the 17.5-minute circuit three times per week for a balanced, total body training regime.
Workout information is collected by cloud-based software so residents can track their health improvements.
“As a general rule of thumb we lose one per cent of muscle mass per year from the age of 35,” Marcin says. “Exercise can also be used as a form of prevention against diseases like obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis – a far more cost effective and attractive proposition than treatment.”
NSW and ACT retirement living provider Uniting operates six seniors’ gyms, which are exclusively for people over the age of 60.
The gyms provide a tailored wellness plan by university-trained exercise physiologists, along with access to seniors-specific smart technology exercise equipment which has been imported from Finland.
Retirement communities are a great place to keep fit and healthy.
This conclusion is backed by research undertaken by public accountants Grant Thornton, commissioned by the Retirement Living Council in 2014, which found that retirement village residents live independently for five years longer than the national average.
The report found that the average age of entry from a retirement village to aged care was 84, compared to the national aged care entry age of 79.
If you want to move to a retirement community to keep fit, you’ve come to the right place.