“I’M 39,” says the shirtless man on the TV commercial, “and I’m in better shape now than when I was a swimmer in high school.”
He smiles and flexes his large, well-defined muscles, as the announcer extols the virtues of Insanity, the regimen he claims to have used to achieve this level of fitness. It is also, we are told, “the hardest workout ever put on TV!”
Infomercials like these are shown frequently on cable TV, which is where 71-year-old Ron Weiner sees them as he walks on the treadmill in the basement of his Searingtown, N.Y., home. As he tunes in the business news, Mr. Weiner — a consultant to the timber industry — can’t help but notice the commercials. He admires the six-pack abs and bulging biceps, listens to the inspiring stories of flabby-to-fit transformations — and goes right on walking.
“I know they’re not for me,” says Mr. Weiner. “I think you have to be a certain physical condition, a certain age, to do some of these things on a regular basis.”
Heavily promoted “high intensity” programs like Insanity and P90X are popular with millions of Americans, including the vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, who is said to be devotee of P90X. They are part of a wider fitness industry trend in health clubs and homes toward fast-paced, time-efficient forms of exercise, generally performed with little rest between each movement.
But are they any good for seniors? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is a qualified maybe. As Mr. Weiner’s reaction to the infomercials suggests, high-intensity exercise is an activity, like downloading Justin Bieber songs or getting tattoos, that many older adults feel might best be left to their children and grandchildren. “One of my colleagues puts it like this,” says Hank Williford, an exercise scientist at Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala. “Is Insanity insanity for seniors?’