At some gyms around Los Angeles, you'll see buff bodies with washboard abs. Not at the Nifty After Fifty chain. It's for older folks, as its name implies, targeting the postretirement set. So the focus isn't on crunches, but on staving off mental and physical deterioration.

The chain is the product of L.A. businessman Sheldon Zinberg's long medical career. He was a gastroenterologist and a clinical professor at the University of California, Irvine, medical school. He also started a medical care company in 1993, which he sold for $237 million to J.P. Morgan 13 years later. After that, he launched Nifty because he saw the need for the over-50 crowd to get in better shape.

"I was seeing a high incident of falls and fractures and realized that physical and mental fitness were the single greatest challenges to the future of their independence," Zinberg said.

He tracked down the equipment, he hired trainers and the Nifty chain was born. The chain now has seven Nifty After Fifty locations in Southern California, including L.A. County locations in Lakewood and Whittier, and nine more are planned for next year.

Club members meet with their fitness coaches to develop a workout regime. The gym also features a "smart key," which members use on each piece of equipment. When activated by the smart key, a screen on each machine tells members where their hands and feet should be and how many reps they should be doing.

In addition to balance and mobility classes, club members can do cane aerobics or even cane-fu, which teaches special self-defense moves utilizing a cane. After their physical workout, members are encouraged to go into the "brain gym" in order to work on memory and problem-solving skills.

"If we improve the mental and physical fitness of seniors, then we can significantly reduce hospitalization and drop the actual cost of Medicare," said Zinberg, who has made more than 40 television and radio appearances to help grow the chain.

Those 55 and older are the fasting growing population in health clubs, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, Almost 10 million health club members are in that age category.

"Fitness is a big part of anti-aging there's scientific evidence that shows that and proves that," said Frank Miele, vice president of International Sports Sciences Association.

Zinberg tries to stay in shape, but mostly at his home in La Habra.

"I work out at one facility or another from time to time," he said. "But I have my own gym at home and work out a minimum of four times a week."

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