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Many people enter the retirement years vowing to be more physically active, but others are putting more muscle into their goals: They're becoming personal trainers.

There was a 7% increase in certified personal trainers 40 and older from 2012 to 2013, according to a survey of 2,500 fitness professionals by the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

This reflects a national trend that shows many people want to work out with a trainer of a similar age or someone who has an understanding of their bodies and their limitations, says Andrew Wyant, the group's president. "A lot of folks like to be able to identify with their trainer, and the trainer should be aspirational as well as inspirational."

A retired teacher and a former senior marketing manager share their stories about why they chose to become personal trainers as their second acts:

A fitness epiphany

Teresa Sawyer, 55, of Raleigh, N.C., loved her career as a music and theater teacher, but after she got into shape with the help of a trainer, she decided to follow that path as a second career.

For 10 years Sawyer worked as a teacher in a middle school and high school. During that time her weight climbed to 347 pounds. She had trouble walking and used a motorized cart in the grocery store. Her feet and knees hurt all the time, she says.

At a doctor's recommendation, she had gastric bypass surgery. About three weeks later, Sawyer started working out.

At first she rode a recumbent bike for 10 minutes a day five days a week and did strength training with a patient personal trainer once a week. "She helped me see that my morbid obesity was not a barrier to getting fit."

Sawyer gradually worked up to biking for longer periods of time and doing more intense weight training. Later she took up swimming and yoga. "I learned to swim for the first time of my life in my 50s." At 5-foot-4, she now weighs 180 pounds.

Inspired by her own success and her belief that she could help others, Sawyer became a certified personal trainer, a certified yoga instructor, an aquatics rehabilitation specialist and a group fitness instructor. "It was my way of giving back to others what I had been given."

She works with people over 40 who prefer training with her rather than with "twentysomething hard bodies. I have a perspective that young hard-body people don't have," she says. She has a workout studio in her home and trains at two local gyms.

"I work with a lot of people with chronic pain. Several are over 70 and want to hold onto or strengthen their fitness levels for quality-of-life purposes."

"Am I in superior shape? Do I take the hardest-core classes at the local gym? No, I don't because there is a risk of injury, and I want to be able to move well for the next 25 years." Sawyer says. "But I can cycle with the best of them. I can do power yoga with the best of them."

She offers these pearls of wisdom to people considering shaping up: "Find something you enjoy doing and do that. Even 10 minutes of exercise at a time is good. You are never too old to reinvent your life with exercise."

Marketer no more

Bobb Prest, 56, of Minneapolis, decided he wanted to be a personal trainer one day when he was running on the treadmill at the gym. He looked around him and thought to himself, "I want to help people. I want to give back."

For more than 20 years, Prest worked in marketing for several Fortune 500 companies. But after his job as senior marketing manager was eliminated, he signed up for a 10-month course to become a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer through the educational division of Life Time Fitness, a national chain of health clubs.

When he started the course, he weighed 212 pounds and had 24% body fat. He's 6-foot-1. Within eight months, he had dropped 27 pounds and was down to 14% body fat. He says he is more energized, and his stress level is almost "non-existent."

Prest, who works on commission for Life Time Athletic, puts in about 45 to 50 hours a week, including his training time with clients and administrative work. He says he'll probably make a good income this year, but it will be 30% to 40% less than he made in the corporate world.

Still, he says, the "intrinsic rewards far outweigh the monetary benefits of my corporate career. I love this job. I get to play all day long. I get out of bed in the morning, and I am excited to get to work. I'm excited to see my clients."

It's rewarding to see people who are struggling with weight issues, muscle loss or lack of balance to turn their lives around and be able to move better and do the simple tasks of daily living, he says. "It's the most satisfying thing you can do. It's better than the paycheck."

He often tells clients a quote he read: "So many people spend their health gaining wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health."

To stay in shape, Prest runs, golfs, rows and does resistance training. "My goal in life is to continue to walk down the fairways to play golf well into my 90s."

To people overwhelmed by the idea of trying to get in shape, he advises them to take one step at a time, even if it's just doing a few extra minutes of walking a day. "The worst thing you can do is try to do too much too fast. Have patience, and be kind to yourself."


February 19, 2014


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