If you think you're too old to benefit from a fitness regimen that includes weight training, think again.
Seven years ago, Beatrice Mullin read about the Crown Valley Senior Olympics competition in her hometown of Pasadena, Calif. She had been working out at a local gym doing aerobics, machine weights and free weights.
Thinking that there was no sport in which she could compete, she called to volunteer for the Senior Olympics.
But when she saw that one of the events was powerlifting, an exercise in which she had become interested, she decided to enter the competition, despite having only two weeks to practice the proper form.
In April 1995, Beatrice won her first powerlifting gold medal. By the way, at the time she was 74.
Today, at 80, Beatrice has won 25 gold medals, holds the powerlifting world record for her age group (82.5 pounds), and is the oldest woman in the United States to compete in the bench press. She has won the "best overall" title in weight lifting for the past six years and has been featured locally and nationally in newspapers, magazines and television, advocating weight training for women of all ages.
Beatrice was not a fitness enthusiast all her life. "I took dance as a young girl, raised two boys, and ran my own businesses, but it's not the same as working out," she said. "I don't know why I waited this long to finally do something just for myself. There must have been some magic plan waiting for me to take that first step. I can't believe all this excitement and fuss started when I was in my 70s," she says. "I've never had so much fun."
Studies consistently show that weight training for seniors is beneficial in many ways. Increased strength can help improve balance, reduce blood pressure, stabilize blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. A separate study also shows that women who take up weight training increase their metabolism for a longer period of time -- and therefore burn more calories -- by training with weights, as compared to jogging or other aerobic exercise.
And increasingly, fitness clubs are catering to seniors, who often are their most committed members and are by far the fastest growing segment of the health club market. For example, Gold's Gym offers discounts to seniors, including 25 to 50 percent off enrollment fees, and many instructors take special training to accommodate the needs of the older fitness club members, says Derek Barton, vice president of Public Relations and Communications for Gold's Gym International.
"Our mission at Gold's is to help all of our members fulfill their human potential," Barton says, "and that includes seniors. We want them to go for it. We not only have a growing number of seniors enrolling in our clubs, but also a growing number of seniors doing great things, like Beatrice."
Beatrice says that although the recognition and gold medals are nice, those aren't what keep her coming back to the weight room.
I feel healthier, more exuberant, happier about the time I spend in the gym," she says. "I love meeting people of all ages at the gym, because they understand the dedication it takes to stay in good health. Of course, going to the gym to work out, you must allow extra time to exercise your jaw muscles, too!"
Beatrice has no plans to retire any time soon. In fact, she tries to get out and speak to women's groups as much as possible to spread the word about the benefits of weight training, even though she realizes it may create some competition in her age bracket.
"These new baby boomers are in for a big surprise when it comes to getting older if they have not been keeping fit by exercising," she says. "If they have not, the fit seniors will beat them mile for mile."