One of the habits that I have failed to convince my parents, who are both in their early 80s, to embrace is strength training. I’m fairly sure I’m not alone in this failure.

My father, as I’ve written about in the past, suffers from heart disease, diabetes, peripheral neuropathy and has expressed a fear of falling. My mother has painful arthritis, routinely uses a walker and has shrunk in height over the years.

Both have flirted with light exercise, dad with riding a recumbent, stationary bike in what he calls “rehab” and mom with water aerobics. But neither of the activities are weight-bearing.

Both could have benefited from starting a strength-training program, utilizing the power of weight resistance, over a lifetime, or even within the past 20 years, or even now. If they lived here, I’d make them come to the gym with me.

The power of weights

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that a growing body of evidence shows “strengthening exercises” are safe and effective for people of all ages, including those who are not currently in perfect health and senior citizens.

Citing studies, the CDC lists the benefits as easing arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, back pain and depression. Name a drug that powerful. And the only side of effect of strength training may be some temporary muscle soreness.

The American College of Sports Medicine says the benefits of long-term resistance training, defined as 12 weeks or more, in adults ages 65 and older are well known and include improvements in muscle strength and endurance and increased bone density.

That’s all good. But how do you first get seniors into strength training? Then, once they get through the door, how do you assure that they are ready to work out, are training in a safe way and are being motivated to return?

Mother of invention

After I wrote about preventing falls in the Aug. 13 edition of Your Health, I received several phone calls from seniors asking where they can go for programs. I suggested some places, such as those mentioned in the article.

But after the conversations, I realized there is a hunger out there. Some really want to help themselves stay healthy. One common theme, though, was that they wanted a facility close to their residence, particularly for those with limited transportation.

Shortly thereafter, I was contacted by Mark Osborne, who is embarking on opening South Carolina locations of ActiveRx, an Arizona-based fitness franchise that focuses on seniors primarily 65 and older.

So far, “active aging centers” exist in Arizona, Texas, California, Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts, and more are in the works.

The first ActiveRx in South Carolina opened last week at 999 Hunter Circle, Suite B, in Mount Pleasant, between Mathis Ferry Road and U.S. 17 in one of the retirement community hubs in the area. Osborne has plans to open centers in Summerville and West Ashley in the coming year or two, as well as in the Myrtle Beach, Hilton Head and Columbia areas in the future.

The business model, developed by active-aging researchers Wayne Phillips and Mark Essex, seems to hit the bull’s eye when it comes to meeting the needs of seniors.

“What they (Phillips and Essex) found in the research is that all of us have in our minds that when we get older, we’ll become weak and frail and die,” says Osborne. “The fact is the weakness and frailness doesn’t have to happen.”

The right combo

Logistically, the model is providing a small, unintimidating setting with minimum amount of equipment where seniors, typically ages 65 and up, work out in supervised groups of three to six people.

The new Mount Pleasant facility is 2,200-square feet and resembles a small physical therapy practice rather than a gym.

Those group workouts could have a secondary benefit of social engagement, especially for seniors in their 80s and 90s.

Before they get started in a strength program, however, an in-house physical therapist conducts an “ActivEval,” one of several trademarked programs that identifies weaknesses that must be built up before joining group sessions. Typically, Osborne says half of the people need to do one-on-one physical therapy before moving into group sessions.

Osborne says that while seniors ideally should strength-train three times a week for 30 minutes per session, they insist on only two, 30-minute sessions per week. The costs are $149 for the evaluation and $79 to $99 per month, not counting discounts for couples and military. Medicare covers some physical therapy sessions.

Granted, the ActiveRx approach seems a little franchise-y to me and I asked Osborne if ActiveRx has been compared to the former fitness juggernaut, Curves for Women, and he said yes, adding that one person joked it should be called Wrinkles.

But I was more impressed when touring the ActiveRx and meeting its staff in Mount Pleasant last week than I ever was with Curves and its hydraulic machines.

I have hopes that this could be a breakthrough for helping seniors build strength and live better, longer and more independent lives in the future.

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.