Clients enjoy working out in the professional, yet friendly, atmosphere of the Nifty After Fifty fitness center, Whittier, Calif.

Sheldon S. Zinberg, MD, boasts: “You haven’t seen nothin’ yet!” Zinberg is a physician and founder of Nifty After Fifty, a new state-of-the-art fitness center for mature adults, located in the East Los Angeles suburb of Whittier, Calif. Geared toward individuals aged 50 and older, the center offers fitness and mental acuity programs (supervised by certified physical therapists and kinesiologists), as well as a physical therapy center (including a general orthopedics outpatient practice) and a facility for honing driving skills.


With a background in internal medicine and gastroenterology, Zinberg has years of clinical experience in dealing with the aging population (he founded two HMOs that deal with seniors). Prompted by his belief that exercise can improve the health of aging individuals, Zinberg, author of Win in the Second Half: A Guide to Better Aging and Fitness for Men and Women, piloted a study of 529 frail seniors who took part in strength training for a period of up to 12 weeks. At the end of the trials, most demonstrated a 100% increase in upper-body and lower-body strength—with an added bonus of reduced depression. At the standard fitness centers where these sessions took place, Zinberg realized many participants were uncomfortable (and sometimes self-conscious) exercising in noisy, fast-paced surroundings among young, well-toned bodies.

That experience prompted Zinberg’s idea that facilities dedicated to the fitness and mental agility of older adults were needed. The result of this concept was Nifty After Fifty.

“Our members range in age from their late 40s to 93 years,” says Zinberg. “The correct activities can reverse, maintain, and improve overall physical and mental conditioning—and can be enjoyable, as well.”

His plans include nationwide expansion of the center.


The site is open, bright, and airy, and the clanking of weights is never heard, as the only type of weight equipment is air-driven (pneumatic) and quiet. Adding to the pleasant atmosphere, the background music is formulated to the population—ranging from an American songbook of standards to top-40s rock from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s.

Since many older individuals find fitness centers noisy, crowded places where they can feel out of place, Nifty After Fifty offers sessions by appointment only. As a result, it is never crowded, and there is always assessable equipment and a coach to assist members’ workouts. There is another benefit of implementing scheduled workouts, Zinberg says, is the coaches do not get overworked, and can be more helpful.

The staff of Nifty at Fifty is friendly and knowledgeable. Certified physical therapists, training coaches, and kinesiologists make up the nonspa staff. Zinberg says, “Kinesiologists bring different talents than the physical therapists, and it is great to see them work together for the patients’ benefit.”


The Nifty at Fifty experience begins with an evaluation process. This takes about an hour and is done with a physical therapist. Frank Carlin, PT, who heads this department, has more than 25 years of experience, including postgraduate work at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. According to Carlin, many of the older clients join the center once they see how effective and fun the programs are.

“Being on-site offers a physical therapist the benefit and luxury of seeing patients enter into a formal exercise program after discharge from their care,” says Carlin. “And they know I’m always here for a courtesy consult should they have any problems.”

Carlin continues, “If they have not worked out in a gym setting before, some older clients can be a little overwhelmed by everything we offer, but in a very short time they come to feel comfortable here. We take extra time to make sure they’re familiar with our programs.

“My favorite [client] is Willie, a 91-year-old woman, who walked in here somewhat frail. After working out here and using our services, she’s full of life and smiling all the time. It’s like a minor miracle. I’ve never been hugged so much.”

When they join, a client’s primary physician is notified of their membership in Nifty at Fifty. The physical therapy staff then works in conjunction with the physician as part of a health and wellness support team for the client. Carlin says that physicians are positive about patients entering into a formal exercise plan, knowing it will benefit their health and well-being. “We are in contact with clients’ physicians,” he says. “We take every precaution with our membership.”

Carlin, Zinberg, and the rest of the staff at Nifty at Fifty agree that consistent exercise is the most important thing that anyone can do to maintain and improve their health. In fact, the center provides clients with state-of-the-art fitness equipment that makes a consistent routine easy to follow.


Clients can hone road skills and mental sharpness with advanced driving simulators and memory software programs.

“Strength training is a must,” says Zinberg. “We begin losing muscle strength and mass between 35 to 40 years of age.”

To combat this loss, Nifty at Fifty offers the WISH (or Win In the Second Half) program. This includes a customized, supervised exercise program using full-body training. This program is for people of all abilities, no matter what their fitness level.

Full-body training uses high-tech equipment, including a multi-trainer unit that works for all ages and conditions. Even a person in a walker or with crutches can use it as a gait unit to aid and restore balance. Other members might use it to improve or restore the motions needed for a golf or tennis swing.

The gym includes a variety of machines to work out every body part with pneumatic technology. Using air pressure instead of weights makes them quieter and smoother to use. No clanking or jerky motions to distract during a workout. The machines work on a personal key system. Every member has a microchip key that, when inserted in the machines, gives a readout of their last workout, the appropriate weight settings, and the goal for which the client should be aiming. There is nothing to remember—workouts go faster and smoother (and no cheating).


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Additional equipment includes seated stair steppers. Many older people have fears of falling from the standard models, but the seated unit is safer and also gives a solid upper body workout. Zinberg recommends that clients complete a 10-minute workout on the seated stair stepper that can be programmed by a fitness coach to provide the maximum metabolic measurement physical activity intensity.

One of the newest fitness technologies offered at the center is an advanced vibration technology workout unit. Primarily used by professional sports teams and celebrities, this type of workout station vibrates while the client exercises on it. The energy is transferred to the body in rapid intense muscle contractions of 30 to 50 contractions per second. The benefits of this workout are increased muscle strength and bone density, improved flexibility and range of motion, as well as stimulation of blood circulation. Increased bone density is especially important to seniors, as many cannot do intensive exercises (ie, running, walking, weight lifting) at a level that helps bones remain strong. Although the advanced vibration technology workout unit is not a replacement for regular exercise, Zinberg believes it is an excellent addition, and recommends that clients follow up their regular workout with a 10-minute vibration session.


A training coach, right, oversees her client’s workout on a multi-trainer unit.

Driving skills also can get a workout at Nifty After Fifty. Its Reviving Your Driving program provides clients with the opportunity to use an advanced driving simulator—approved by the National Safety Council and used by the US Army for drivers of tanks and Humvee vehicles.

Clients can take a 4 1/2-hour course in 20-minute sessions. Much harder than regular driving—and more sensitive, for users cannot take their eyes off the road at any time—the simulator offers all types of driving experiences and weather a driver might encounter. The purpose of the course is to help improve driving abilities, and improve and correct skills that may be waning with age.

There is also a financial benefit to taking the simulated driving course. According to Zinberg, “People who successfully complete the course [who are older than] 55 years of age are eligible for a discount on their car insurance.”

As part of the overall driving improvement program, Zinberg says fitness coaches also have physical exercises for the foot and hip flexors to make braking and acceleration control easier as a person ages.

Another program offered by the Whittier-based facility is Rewinding Your Mind, which was designed to restore and improve mental agility. Ordinarily, most people lose 1% of their memory per year once they reach age 35. Using a structured software program that puts the brain through a series of workouts (or what neurobiologist Lawrence Katz, PhD, of Duke University calls “neurobics”) to enhance its ability to hold onto long- and short-term memories, members can reverse that loss by a decade or two.

“An 80-year-old person could regain 20 years and have the memory they had at 60, a 70-year-old could regain the skills they had at 50,” says Zinberg. “[This program] deals with memory and problem-solving skills using computers and noncomputer puzzles and games.”

Other services available at the center include nutritional counseling, yoga, a skin and body spa (that will soon offer body contouring using the latest noninvasive technology), and social events (such as movie and dance nights). In addition, it offers employment and volunteering opportunities, and dating and acquaintance services.

Nifty After Fifty is an idea whose time has come—a complete wellness and fitness center addressing all areas for life for an aging population.

Cathy Logan is a contributing writer for  Rehab Management.