Working Late: Older Americans On The Job
3:43 am
Wed February 13, 2013

For One Senior, Working Past Retirement Age Is A Workout

Originally published on Wed February 13, 2013 8:29 pm

Increasingly, people are continuing to work past 65. Almost a third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 70 are working, and among those older than 75, about 7 percent are still on the job. In Working Late, a series for Morning Edition, NPR profiles older adults who are still in the workforce.

Retirement isn't what it used to be, or even when it used to be.

Since the late 1970s, the percentage of Americans over 65 who are still working has doubled. Sometimes these people are working because they need the money. But increasingly, people are staying in the workforce into their later years because they're living longer and staying healthy longer.

For fitness instructor John David, 73, work means working out. His job is to help older people stay healthy and fit.

At one recent hourlong class at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, he leads more than 30 people in stretching and flexing every single part of their bodies. David demonstrates every movement for his class. If he teaches two classes in a day, then he goes through the workout twice.

And he looks up to it. He's tall and lean, just the way you'd picture someone who spent decades as a runner and a gym rat.

In his class, students bounce in time to music, sometimes standing on one leg while extending the other to the front, back and sides. Some hold on to the backs of their chairs. Some don't need to. It looks like a kind of free-form hokey pokey, without the circle. Everyone is smiling.

"This turned out to be the real calling. This turned out to be the thing I am good at, and you can see that people respond, so it's rewarding," David says.

It wasn't always his calling. He used to live in Los Angeles and work in TV production. He was also spending a lot of time in the gym, and he noticed something about the people there.

"If you were pretty, if you were handsome and you were fit, you got a lot of help from the trainers — a lot of help. And if you were funny looking or overweight or awkward or had gray hair, not so much," David says. "And I thought the people who need the stuff are not getting it."

So in his mid-50s, David decided to become a certified trainer — he was looking to get out of television anyway. He tried to get a job at his gym.

"They said, 'We're not hiring right now.' Well, two or three days later, they hired somebody, but they were young," he says.

So David started out volunteering in retirement communities until it turned into paying work. By the time he moved to New York 15 years ago, he had a resume. He now teaches at several community centers around Manhattan, and has a few private clients. It's not full-time work, and he doesn't make a lot of money, but he loves being able to give older adults what they need from a fitness routine.

"I take it from my own experience. The things that you need at my age ... are entirely different than what you need when you're 35, and you're thinking about your beach body and sexual prowess or whatever," he says.

For people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, exercise is about something much more fundamental, he says. "Can I live my life? Can I get out of a chair? Can I walk to the store? Can I be the person I want to be?"

His routine goes through every muscle group, including facial and eye muscles.

"Everything's gotta work ... every body part, particularly your eyes," he says. "And moving your neck. And when you go out in the street, you have to turn your head. You wanna see that pizza delivery guy on the bike; you wanna see the cab coming."

David's students know that they're being taught by one of their own.

Mimi Rockmore, 93, has been in David's class about a year. "I like it that he's older, that he understands what hurts and what doesn't," she says.

And they know that exercise can help them hang on to what they've got and keep the bad stuff from getting worse — whether it's improving endurance or fighting osteoporosis or staying mentally sharp.

David intends to keep teaching his classes as long as he's strong enough.

"I don't know how long it will work, but I'll do it as long as I can — as long as I think I'm having an effect, having a good effect," he says.

Do you have a story to share about someone who is staying in the workforce beyond the traditional retirement years? Tell us more in the comments section below.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Retirement isn't what it used to be, or even when it used to be. Increasingly, people are continuing to work past the age of 65. In fact, government statistics show that almost a third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 70 are still working. Even among people 75 or older, 7 percent are still on the job. We're exploring this phenomenon in a new series called Working Late. NPR's Ina Jaffe covers aging, and over the next few weeks, she'll be introducing us to several older adults still in the workforce. Ina is here in the studio at NPR West with me. Good morning.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: So, I would think this is a baby boomer phenomenon. We all know boomers - we can include ourselves in this one - never plan to get old.

JAFFE: You know, Renee, it's not really a boomer phenomenon. If you think about it, the oldest baby boomers have just begun reaching retirement age in the past year or two. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics says this trend actually started long ago. Since the late 1970s, the percentage of Americans over 65 who are still working has doubled, and those numbers are going to swell as the baby boomers hit 65.

MONTAGNE: Why, then, are people working later? I mean, we know hard times. Some people, of course, have to. But also - what? Because some want to?

JAFFE: Well, both, really. I mean, some can't afford to retire, as you pointed out. They may not have saved enough, or they may have lost money from retirement savings during the recession. But maybe the biggest reason that older people are still working is that they can. People are living longer and staying healthy longer, and a lot of them want to keep working.

MONTAGNE: Which brings us to the story that you have for us today, which I gather is about someone whose job actually keeps them healthy and active.

JAFFE: And it keeps a lot of other people healthy and active, too. His name is John David. He's 73 years old, and he's a fitness instructor for people over 60.

JOHN DAVID: You got your weights?

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Yeah.

DAVID: You got the chair.

JAFFE: This is David's class at the 92nd Street Y in New York.

DAVID: Twisting just the torso, not the legs, not the head, twist, take a deep breath and hold. I'm counting to 100.

JAFFE: There are more than 30 people here, enough to pack the room. Over the course of this hour, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing, they will stretch and flex every single part of their bodies.

DAVID: Watch what I'm doing.

JAFFE: John David doesn't just tell, he shows, going through every movement with his class. He teaches two classes a day, then he goes through the workout twice. And he looks up to it. He's tall and lean, just the way you'd picture someone who spent decades as a runner and a gym rat.

DAVID: Down here. Back here.

JAFFE: At this moment, everyone in class is on their feet, bouncing, moving their arms, shaking their hips.

DAVID: If I screw up, just keep going.

JAFFE: They stand one leg, extending the other to the front, back and sides. Some hold onto the backs of their chairs. Some don't need to. It looks like a kind of free-form hokey pokey, without the circle. Everyone is smiling, which keeps John David happy.

DAVID: This turned out to be the real calling. This turned out to be the thing I am good at, and you can see that people respond. So it's rewarding.

JAFFE: This wasn't always David's calling. He used to live in Los Angeles and work in TV production. He was also spending a lot of time in the gym, and he noticed something about the people there.

DAVID: If you were pretty. If you were handsome and you were fit, you got a lot of help from the trainers - a lot of help. And if you were funny looking or overweight or awkward or had gray hair, not so much. And I thought the people who need this stuff are not getting it.

JAFFE: So, in his mid-50s, David decided to become a certified trainer. He was looking to get out of television, anyway. He tried to get a job at his gym.

DAVID: They said: We're not hiring right now. Well, two or three days later, they hired somebody, but they were young.

JAFFE: So David started out volunteering in retirement communities until it turned into paying work. By the time he moved to New York 15 years ago, he had a resume. He now teaches at several community centers around Manhattan. He also has a few private clients. It's not full-time work, and he doesn't make a lot of money, but he loves being able to give older adults what they need from a fitness routine. In fact, at 73 years of age, David's given up on running. The routine he teaches is now his primary workout.

DAVID: I take it from my own experience. The things that you need at my age, the thing that you need are entirely different than what you need when you're 35 and, you know, you're thinking about your beach body and sexual prowess or whatever.

JAFFE: For people in their 70s, 80s and 90s, exercise is about something much more fundamental.

DAVID: Can I live my life? Can I get out of a chair? Can I walk to the store? Can I be the person I want to be?

JAFFE: You seem to have gone - made a concerted effort to go through every single muscle group, including face muscles, including eye muscles.

DAVID: Everything's got to work.

JAFFE: Every body part.

DAVID: Every body part, particularly your eyes and moving your neck. And when you go out in the street, you have to turn your head. You want to see that pizza delivery guy on the bike. You want to see the cab coming.

JAFFE: David's students know that they're being taught by one of their own. Ninety-three-year-old Mimi Rockmore has been in David's class about a year.

MIMI ROCKMORE: I like it that he's older, that he understands what hurts and what doesn't.

JAFFE: And they know that exercise can help them hang on to what they've got and keep the bad stuff from getting worse, whether it's improving endurance or fighting osteoporosis or staying mentally sharp. Ninety-nine-year-old Syd Kreps knows what he gets out of the class.

SYD KREPS: Tighter muscles.

JAFFE: Do you feel stronger?

KREPS: I keep on holding to the strength that I have. I don't know that I feel stronger. I feel strong enough.

JAFFE: John David intends to keep teaching his classes as long as he's strong enough.

DAVID: And I don't know how long it will work, but I'll do it as long as I can, as long as I think I'm having an effect, having a good effect.

MONTAGNE: That's 73-year-old fitness instructor John David. And, Ina, just one thing: John David doesn't seem to plan on retiring ever, unless something forces him to. Is that what you found with other people that you've interviewed for this series?

JAFFE: Not with all of them, Renee. I interviewed one woman who did retire. She was really looking forward to it. She had other passions she wanted to pursue, but she suffered some big financial losses during the recession and she had to keep working. And we're going to meet her next week.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Ina Jaffe, who is reporting a series over the next few weeks here on MORNING EDITION we're calling Working Late. We'd like to hear your stories about people who are staying in the workforce beyond the traditional retirement years. You can tell us more at npr.org/WorkingLate. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.