More to Come Baby Boomers Redefine What Used to Be Retirement Age with Physical, Intellectual Pursuits

By Barcousky, Len | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 21, 2013 | Go to article overview

More to Come Baby Boomers Redefine What Used to Be Retirement Age with Physical, Intellectual Pursuits


Barcousky, Len, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Terri Ciletti said the only exercise she got before she retired was walking her dog. That changed last week when she began working out at the South Hills branch of the Jewish Community Center in Scott.

"I see a lot of people my age who can't move around," Ms. Ciletti, 66, said as she progressed from machine to machine at the suburban fitness center. "If I want to stay healthy, I have to stay fit," she said.

Ms. Ciletti, of Mt. Lebanon, is among the 78 million people born in the United States between 1946 and 1964 who now are -- often reluctantly -- joining the ranks of senior citizens. The Pew Research Center has estimated that 10,000 members of the generation known as baby boomers will turn 65 today, and that trend will continue for the next 17 years.

While their parents and grandparents usually viewed that milestone birthday as a time to withdraw from full-time work and relax, many boomers are remaking themselves for the second and third acts of their lives. Some have returned to school to prepare for new careers. Some, especially after their children learn to drive or move out for work or college, are taking up new sports and enrolling in gym programs.

Alice Lawson, 51, will graduate April 28 with two bachelor's degrees from the University of Pittsburgh. The first will be in legal studies and the second in administration of justice with a focus in forensics.

"I think those degrees will open other doors for me," she said. "I'll be better able to compete for other positions at Pitt." Mrs. Lawson, who lives in Castle Shannon, works at the university as a grants-and-contracts officer.

She is not alone among baby boomers who continue to pursue higher education. While colleges and universities have long offered older students the opportunity to audit or to enroll in noncredit enrichment classes, many are signing up as regular students working toward degrees.

Community College of Allegheny County last fall had almost 900 students ages 50 to 64 taking courses for credit. That number represents about 4.6 percent of CCAC's enrollment, according to spokesman David Hoovler.

Empty nesters have time

Baby boomers who are empty nesters or recent retirees are helping to fuel growth at the JCC's South Hills branch, director Dan Garfinkel, 62, said. Especially popular is the Silver Sneakers program for those age 65 and older who have Highmark supplemental health insurance. "Their doctors are telling them they need to stay active and exercise," he said.

The branch sees about 300 visitors between 7 a.m. and noon on most weekdays. Many who were using stationary bicycles, treadmills and weight-training machines on a recent morning clearly fit into the baby boomer category. Few are as committed to getting regular exercise as Jim Senchak, 62, of Scott. He tries to swim three times per week and to lift weights an equal number of times.

A former high school athlete, Mr. Senchak still plays basketball and has run several marathons. He took up swimming as part of his rehabilitation after back surgery. "Exercise has always been an important part of my life," he said.

Unlike many people who sit for hours at their desks, he stays active at his job as a custodian at Chartiers Valley High School. He previously worked at U.S. Steel before it closed its Homestead operations.

Jobs that require physical exertion like Mr. Senchak's are becoming rarer, and that phenomenon has the potential to translate into health concerns for many baby boomers, according to Vonda Wright, an orthopedic surgeon at UPMC.

Factory, mining and farming jobs have been on the decline for decades. Combine that with the desires of parents of baby boomers for their children to pursue white-collar positions, and the result is people who spend the bulk of their work lives sitting behind a desk, she said.

Like JCC director Mr. Garfinkel, Dr. Wright sees movement -- no pun intended -- among many of her mature patients to change their lifestyles. …

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