By VERONICA GORLEY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Nick DiFabio, 67, is familiar with exercising. In fact, he had exercised just three days before he noticed a burning in his chest that led to quadruple bypass surgery 41/2 years ago.
The Austintown resident is new, though, to Rocky's Personalized Training and Wellness Center in Boardman. He started working out at Rocky's after his kids bought him a membership this year.
"If they need a stand-in for Tarzan, I could do it -- I'm in that good of shape," he said proudly.
DiFabio, a retired GM employee, said he now takes no medication.
"This is my medicine," he said of exercising. "And if I don't live one hour longer, I'll feel better up until I go."
Widespread tale: Stories similar to DiFabio's are echoing through the ranks of older generations and causing them to re-examine their lifestyles. What has made senior citizens want to join fitness clubs?
"If it weren't for this, I wouldn't be getting any exercise at all," said Fred Costello, 86, of Niles. "I've made some friends, and I think it improves my health."
Anthony Pannozza, owner of Creekside Fitness and Health Center in Boardman, stressed the importance of exercise for aging adults.
"If you don't exercise on a daily basis, you get weaker," he said. "The only way to combat that is to exercise every day."
Some area fitness clubs estimate that seniors make up between 20 and 30 percent of gym membership. With more senior citizens interested in fitness club membership, local clubs have started making accommodations for their older clientele. Conducting classes for seniors is one of the ways gyms cater to the more mature crowd.
For instance, Quantum Fitness and Health Inc. in Howland provides an aerobic class for "mature adults" called "Revive," which focuses on toning, stretching and rebuilding.
"You have to have programs specifically geared for mature adults," said Revive instructor Ann Johnson. "The approach to fitness programs is different for anyone 40 and over."
It's working: Two Revive class participants from Warren, Ted and Judy Pippenger, have joined a gym for the first time this year and can feel the difference.
"We love it," said Judy, 66. "We have more energy during the day."
Ted, 75, has noticed that driving has become easier for him.
"When I went to turn a corner, Judy had to tell me when cars were coming," he said. "Now I can whip my head around and do it myself."
The YMCA in Youngstown is another gym that holds senior-oriented classes, one of which is "Twinges in the Hinges" -- a class for arthritis patients.
Many mature exercisers enjoy aquatic activities as well. Gyms such as Quantum, YMCA, Creekside and Bodyworks Fitness Centers in Austintown offer various aquatic classes for aging clients, and Gayle George, a Creekside manager, believes the whirlpools, steam rooms and saunas at some gyms attract an older membership.
Arthritis patients at the YMCA appreciate its warm, shallow pool, said Program Director Tom Grantonic. The gym also has a handicap lift in the water and easy stair access -- not a ladder -- for members with disabilities.
"There are a lot of things older folks can do in the water that they can't do on the land," Grantonic said. "That's why they enjoy the water programs -- it gives them freedom of movement."
Mainstream movers: Instead of attending senior-specific classes, a number of silver-haired exercisers participate in the regular classes gyms offer. Spinning, rowing and jump-stretch classes, as well as breathing and stretching classes like Pilates and yoga, are popular.
"Most of them do prefer the more social type of programs," Grantonic said. "The classes are popular for that reason. They'll go out for breakfast or for lunch together afterwards. They come for the fellowship and get exercise at the same time."
Pannozza believes the best fitness programs for the older crowd are supervised classes, because the social atmosphere allows exercisers to encourage one another and may help to combat depression.
Not all seniors in fitness centers participate in classes, however. Some mature exercisers implement their own fitness programs using cardiovascular machines and weight training, and trainers are available to get them started.
George Hudzik, a trainer at Rocky's, believes personalized training not only attracts older generations to gyms but also keeps them coming and minimizes intimidation.
Owner Rocky Taumoepeau said that trainers at Rocky's design personalized programs for aging clients to find out what their strengths are. As time goes by, trainers evaluate the programs, eventually adding to them to ease clients into a harder workout.
"They've never exercised before and now they have all kinds of problems," Taumoepeau said of many seniors. "They need a regular exercise program."
Musical touch: Another way clubs cater to aging exercisers is through music. Clubs often play current music for their younger crowds, but some clubs are toning down the tunes in senior fitness classes or during the times most of their clients are older.
"We have a different radio station on while they are here, or we turn it off if that's what they want," George said.
Several local clubs offer discounts and convenient hours, such as opening around 5 a.m., in order to attract aging customers. Many local clubs notice that retirees who start their day at the gym comprise the majority of the early morning crowd.
Dolly Mendt, 62, of Canfield believes fellow retirees choose to exercise in the mornings because there are fewer people in the gym and seniors have more energy at that time. She began working out at Rocky's in January.
"I was a little intimidated at first, but I got more comfortable," she said.
Clubs may also tailor some of their advertising to the aging health-conscientious crowd.
"We don't do slick body image advertising," said Eve Bevilacqua, owner of Bodyworks. "This is the market now, especially in the Youngstown area. They have the money, and they're interested in being fit."
For many people, fitness is a fad, but not for the majority of the golden oldies crowd. For them, the fitness trend has become a lifestyle. Once they get interested, they stay interested, George said.
And their tenacity is winning them respect among the club staff.
"I want to be like them when I grow up," George said with a laugh.
XMonday: Finding fitness and pampering in the same location.