Age Performance is a training facility designed to help older adults function physically at the highest level possible. The program helps them to not just maintain their strength but increase it, ensuring that they remain independent longer and that their health-span meets their lifespan.
It was the early ’90s, and Paul Holbrook, founder and CEO of Age Performance, was visiting his uncle in a nursing home. As he walked down the hall past rooms of frail and bedridden people, he had a thought: “What would happen if you took these very frail, bed-ridden people and worked them very hard physically?” A number of outcomes were possible—including some undesirable ones—but there was also this possibility: What if they got stronger?
Around the same time, a landmark study out of Tufts University had proven the benefits of weight-training for older adults. Over the course of the 12-week study, 100 subjects whose average age was 87 underwent weight-training using a typical formula: lifting 80% of their one-repetition maximum for 10 repetitions. At the end of the 12 weeks, every one of the subjects had increased their strength by at least 110%, their ability to climb stairs by 28%, and their walking speed by a half-mile an hour.
“It was incredible,” Paul says. “This was the validation of my thoughts when I’d walked into my uncle’s nursing home. It was all being proven in front of my eyes. When I saw this report, I called up Tufts University and asked to do an internship there. And they said sure.”
In 1998, upon completion of his graduate studies in gerontology and his internship—which was under Dr. Marie Fiaterone, the principal researcher of the study that had drawn Paul to Tufts University—Paul returned to Salt Lake City and opened the prototype of Age Performance. It was a personal-training program for older adults called Age Well. Housed in a local gym, it was one of the first programs of its kind in the country. But Paul’s vision had grown.
“I just kept visualizing that there needed to be a place for older adults to work out. A place where they weren’t intimidated, with a program that was safe and effective, and that they would be attracted to.”
In 2005, Paul opened Age Performance, which has its own facility, and has grown from employing one trainer to eight. Many clients have been with Paul for over a decade, and Paul reports that through Age Performance, they have not only maintained their strength but in some cases increased it.
“One of my clients started with me in his mid-60s, and that was 25 years ago. Now, in his mid-80s, his strength is the same.”
Age Performance’s innovation lies not just in bringing an effective exercise program to older adults but also in disabusing everyone of the notion that their frailty is inevitable. While that frailty comes from a breakdown of fast-twitch muscles—the muscles we use to sprint or recover ourselves if we trip—weight training can reverse this breakdown. And because fast-twitch muscles can be the difference between stumbling and falling down—which can lead to so many other complications—it is imperative to keep them well developed.
“You can envision in your mind’s eye how you want to be when you are 50, 60, 70, 80, 90,” Paul says. “When you have that mental focus and you’re consistent, you give your body no choice but to get to that point that you’ve imagined.”
Paul hopes to expand Age Performance beyond Salt Lake City and to empower older adults everywhere to live their best lives.
“This can happen anywhere. When we give our body a physical stimulus of some intensity, then there is this divine intervention that happens that improves our health. We all have access to that, it’s in all of us, and to me, that’s magic. It’s magical what happens when you give your body a physical stimulus on a consistent basis. There’s nothing like it in the world.”