Baby boomers are rewriting the book on aging and retirement, just like they have rewritten so many "books" over the years -- from women in the workforce to concern for the environment.
Sitting around the house, watching television and waiting for the grandchildren to visit is not on the agenda for them.
Many continue to work late into their 60s, whether they need to or not, and others spend their days engaging in active sports/recreation, pursuing new careers, enrolling in enrichment classes, learning new skills, traveling the world and volunteering.
Accordingly, the opportunities for sports and recreation engagement for those over 50 have increased along with the demand. Such programs abound in Chicago's suburbs and in a surprising variety.
For instance, pickleball has literally become a craze among this age group, although it can be played by any age. Today you find pickleball programs and opportunities just about anywhere you find a gym or an outdoor tennis court -- from Mundelein to St. Charles to Lake Barrington.
"We have about 24 older adults who come here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning to play in our open pickleball league, which they organize themselves. In addition, during the winter we also have a competitive league involving about 48 people, both men and women, who play every other Wednesday," said Tammy Kerr, general manager of the Canlan Sports Plex in Lake Barrington.
"Anyone can play pickleball and it is very popular with seniors, so we really want to grow our program here at Canlan," she continued. "It is such a fun, social game and those who are really good and experienced at the game don't even have to move much to be highly competitive."
Pickleball was invented in 1965 and is a cross between badminton and table tennis, Kerr said. It is generally played by four people at a time, using oversized solid paddles and a Wiffle-type ball and is much lower-impact than racquetball.
Unlimited pickleball monthly passes at Canlan are $50. There are also punch passes for those who would rather pay as they play. Anyone who would like to try the sport out may drop in once for free, Kerr said, anytime between 9 and 11 a.m., Monday through Friday, at 28156 W. Northpointe Parkway, Lake Barrington.
Fitness classes that specialize in strength, flexibility, balance and cardiorespiratory conditioning for seniors are also plentiful and popular. Bernie Klos and John Keller are two seniors who started their own fitness class in the Masonic Lodge at 356 Brainerd Road in Libertyville three years ago.
The class, which they call "Rehabitations," is held from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and is a holistic course that addresses fitness for the entire body. The workouts are low-impact but challenging, according to Klos, and they are willing and able to modify the exercises to fit each individual's abilities, even if they are coming back from an injury or have physical limitations.
"No two classes are the same and we work with a variety of equipment. Our classes generally have between six and 12 people, so we can give lots of individual attention to our students because, like John and me, we all have our limitations," he explained.
Students pay as they go ($4 per class) since some choose to only attend once a week, while others attend class three days a week.
"When I retired, I went from being an unhealthy, out-of-shape CPA to becoming a certified fitness, indoor cycling and Pilates instructor. My partner, John, worked at the old Central Lakes YMCA and developed their senior exercise program. When I got certified and the YMCA was having financial troubles, we decided to team up," he recalled.
"Socialization is a big part of our classes. We hold occasional luncheons and sometimes bring doctors in to talk to the students. This is a case of seniors helping seniors. It is a labor of love for John and me," Klos added.
In Des Plaines, at the Lattof YMCA, 300 E. Northwest Hwy., a variety of classes is offered to encourage their older-adult members to remain active, vigorous and social. All of its many courses can be geared to people of all ages and abilities and there are plenty of staff members to instruct members on the use of equipment and on how to do the activities safely, said Annette Tarchala, member experience director.
But there are also a few classes that are specifically aimed at seniors. One is "Silver Sneakers," a fitness class that can be paid for by a member's health insurance. Another is "Silver Sneakers Yoga." Both are offered several times a day, enhanced by music and are low-impact, full-body workouts that focus on muscle strength and range of movement, she said.
The third senior-specific class is a water fitness class called "Silver Splash," held in the facility's warm, shallow pool. Kickboards are used to work on strength, stability and balance and, according to Tarchala, the class is particularly recommended for those with arthritis and joint problems.
Monthly passes are sold for $25 that allow seniors to participate in two water and two land-based classes each week.
"We believe that this programming keeps our seniors young and social because they are staying active and at the same time they are making friends and even sharing coffee and stories afterward," Tarchala said.
Dance can also give fitness-seekers an incredible workout, so the Schaumburg Park District offers weekly belly dancing classes at its Community Recreation Center, 505 N. Springinsguth Road, taught by Mari Peckham.
The art of belly dancing goes well beyond colorful veils and bejeweled hips. It teaches dancers to isolate abdominal muscles and improves strength and flexibility. The low-impact dance also helps decrease stress, keeps the spine flexible and supple and aids in hip and joint health, according to Peckham. In addition, the quick combination of isolated movements supports memory function and the veil work increases arm strength.
Participants move at their own pace and receive lots of encouragement from classmates no matter what their size or ability. In fact, students say that it is the camaraderie that keeps many of them coming back.
The median age of the residents of the Oak Brook Park District is 52, so it is especially important for that park district to offer a wide variety of classes and recreation opportunities for that demographic, explained Jessica Carraday, marketing manager for the Oak Brook Park District. Hence, they offer many options.
For instance, the district is the home base of Fluid Running, the first water running program in the nation. Recognized by the American Council on Exercise, this is a deep water running regimen designed for injured or aging athletes and is good for athletes of all levels.
In Fluid Running, the students wear a flotation belt and are tethered to a lap lane and they run in the deep water, gaining all of the benefits of running without the physical punishment of running on dry land. Carraday said it is perfect for those who want a cardio workout even though they are suffering from arthritis and sore muscles.
The Oak Brook Park District's "Choose to Lose 65-Plus" weight-loss program is also very popular and features participants weighing in weekly and taking on challenges, beginning each January.
There is also a walking club for those 65 and older and a Master's Swim Team that is competitive but also social. They work on swimming speed, technique and endurance.
"We have found that our adults in the 55-65 age range don't want to be lumped into the senior category, so our senior classes start at age 65," Carraday explained.
The Oak Brook Park District also offers a variety of events and competitions for the older adult demographic. The Pink 5K is popular with older adults. It is held each Mother's Day weekend and it raises funds to fight breast cancer.
In addition, each March it holds an indoor sprint triathlon in which participants swim for 10 minutes, cycle (spin) for 10 minutes and use the treadmill for 15 minutes. Participants "place" based on the distance they covered in that time.
Not all baby boomers who are seeking out recreational and sports opportunities are trying something new. Some are hearkening back to their younger days and the sports they knew well as children and teens.
That is the case with most of the men and women who play in Naperville's Senior (Over 50) 12-Inch Softball program, according to Rich Fleming, the program's coordinator for the past 11 years. "The average age of our players is 63 or 64, but we have some in their 80s, many in their 70s and many in their 50s, too," he said.
They play in Gartner Park (524 W. Gartner Road) for two hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning during the season. Those who are still actively employed generally stop by when they are on vacation or have a day off, Fleming said. "Last year we had about 75 people signed up, but we averaged between 30 and 42 each time. We don't have set teams. We figure it out based on how many people are there."
"We stress safety in this league so there is no sliding; we have a screen for the pitcher; we avoid collisions by having runners run wide; and we have a chalk arc drawn and outfielders must stay behind that arc so that batters have a chance to get to base," he explained.
"This is a recreational league so we aren't too competitive. The fun and fellowship is more important. In fact, by the time we hit the parking lot, most of the guys have forgotten who won," he said.
An all-volunteer softball committee runs the league. They even hold a summer picnic and a holiday party.
There is even an ice hockey league for those 50 and over, held at the Rocket Ice Arena, 180 Canterbury Lane, Bolingbrook. It is cleverly called "Hockey Five-O," which reminds baby boomers of the ever-popular "Hawaii Five-O" television show they knew growing up (and can now watch again with updated characters).
"Several guys came to me about three years ago and asked if we would establish a recreational hockey league with economical ice times for older adults and I loved the idea," recalled Ed Schroeder, owner of Rocket Ice Arena. "They just wanted to have fun."
"Some of the guys played as kids and a few didn't, but it is a nice group of teachers, surgeons, attorneys and small-business people who are there for the fitness, fun and camaraderie and they come from all over the Chicago area," he continued.
The group plays pickup games (known as rat hockey) at 9:20 p.m. on Tuesdays and they play their games at 9:20 or 10:40 p.m. Fridays during the season. Rat hockey is played those same nights throughout the summer. There are four teams in the league with clever names like The Gray Wolves, The Rusty Blades, The Geri Hat Tricks and Pond Hockey.
"We have players of all abilities, even beginners," stated Don Bolger, one of the league's organizers and a Bolingbrook resident. "Most are in their 50s or early 60s but if someone is interested in joining and playing, we will work with them. Women are also welcome. We had one woman last season who loved it, but she had to move for her job."
"Keep in mind that ice time is not cheap, so this isn't a cheap sport. It costs guys about $18 per game to play and they need their own equipment," he continued.
"We are in it for the exercise and the camaraderie. We know that none of us are going to the National Hockey League and there are no scouts in the stands. We are just there to play and have fun," Bolger said.