Gym rats undoubtedly have seen this fit, no-nonsense 62-year old spotting 20- to 40-somethings in the weight room at the Skillman LA Fitness, where his personal-training appointment book is maxed out. But outside the health club, John Reeg takes a special interest in older clients. For four years, the former Marine and Vietnam veteran has worked as a part-time fitness consultant at neighborhood retirement centers, and about a year ago he started Silver Star Fitness, an in-home personal training program for seniors. A staunch advocate of exercise for all, Reeg believes regular training is especially important as one ages. He calls exercise “a magic pill” and a source of both physical and mental power.
What did you have in mind when you launched Silver Star Fitness?
Later in my career, I wound up working in sales, which didn’t last long. I decided I wanted to do something else. I tried to start a staffing company for veterans. This was a needed service — at one time I had 500 résumés on my desk — but I soon ran out of money. “This isn’t working,” I told myself. “What am I going to do?” My focus returned to fitness, something that had always been a big part of my life. I realized there was a large Baby Boomer population, many of whom don’t really enjoy the health club scene. I felt there was a niche to fill in helping this age group get into shape.
Why is it important for older adults to exercise?
That’s a question with a big answer, because exercise is like a magic pill. You don’t have to hang out at the gym all day or go to extremes. You just have to find something relatively fun that you will do regularly, and the benefits are so vast. We have known for some time that exercise makes us stronger, controls weight, improves mobility, digestion, sleep, increases energy, improves the libido and a list of other physical things, but recent studies prove that it also affects mental and emotional health — it decreases anxiety and enhances brain function. Exercise is not about vanity or looks as we age, but quality of life. Dr. Frank Marcola said it well: “Long after you stop worrying about what you look like in a bathing suit, your commitment to regular physical activity will show in your quick wit and mental acuity.”
How do you know so much about this stuff?
I have always been into athletics. In my younger years I was in traditional sports — a little football because I grew up in Indiana. Joined the Marines, where you definitely are required to get in shape, and in college I really became interested in gymnastics — saw these guys flipping around and thought, “That looks like fun.” I was a gymnast at Ball State University in Indiana and later opened a gym and trained gymnasts. I taught physical education in public schools for 23 years, too. I have a BS [bachelor of science] in health, physical education and recreation; Cooper Institute certifications in personal training, older-adult fitness, weight loss management and group exercise instruction.
If we can’t find an exercise we enjoy, are we doomed?
No. In fact this is something I always stress to people — exercise is not always fun. But if you want to stay independent and mobile as you get older, incorporate exercise into your daily life, whether you like it or not. If you are lucky, you will find something you have fun doing. If not, the benefits far outweigh the relatively short period of difficulty.
What type of successes have your older clients seen?
There are so many success stories. A woman whom I train at LA Fitness asked me to help her mother-in-law, who, in her 80s, had become sedentary — had been reduced to watching TV all day, unable to stand on her feet for 30 seconds. Today, together, we take 15-minute walks outdoors on a regular basis. I’ve helped a lady who couldn’t lift her arms over her head regain mobility, and I have seen women through pregnancy and getting into shape post-pregnancy. I just find great reward in seeing people get strong. It is not hard. I just have to listen to people and their goals, and design the plan that suits them. There is a plan that works for everyone.
So, no excuses?
No. It doesn’t matter if you are at the end-of-life years, whether you are in a wheelchair, or if you haven’t worked out for the last 30 years. Heck, even people who are in a coma benefit from the physical therapists coming in and moving their limbs. There is a level of exercise that is beneficial to anyone and everyone.
• For more information, visit silverstarfitness.com