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Outside the Box: This worker found a new career that transforms lives

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Since 1894, Labor Day has been held the first Monday of September to honor American workers and celebrate the importance of workers’ rights.

Given what workers across many industries have dealt with during the pandemic, this year seems more precious than ever to pause and celebrate the ways that people and businesses have pivoted their work to persist and prosper.

Take a moment now to remember the things that you value about your work, what makes you love what you do despite the challenges, and how you feel appreciated in the workplace, or what you might want to do to change that moving forward.

For Kathy Porter, a certified senior fitness trainer at Atlanta-based Vivo, a virtual small-group fitness program for adults 55 and older, it’s leading 15 classes a week over Zoom boosted by the background rhythm of classic rock ’n’ roll tunes ranging from the Bob Seger to The Rolling Stones.

“I love the people and watching them transform as they get stronger, fitter, and learn to move again with confidence,” she says. “We laugh and smile and sweat. It’s fun.”

Eric Levitan, founder of Vivo, says it’s the joy of seeing his new business gain traction. Last year, after 25 years of working in technology and running software companies, Levitan, 50, launched his concept.

It was a business that he had been in the process of creating for a year, but the pandemic jettisoned his original plan of in-person strength training classes in senior living communities. He quickly pivoted to an online format that now has the potential to reach older adults around the world.

“To make an impact by increasing the quality of life of an older adult is really profound,” he says. “I love that my work can positively change the course of someone’s aging.”

Porter worked as a personal trainer, and group exercise instructor at the wellness center at the Chick-fil-A cooperate office in Atlanta for 14 years. When her husband retired in 2018, the couple relocated to Chapin, S.C.

Porter, now 62, however, wasn’t ready to retire. “I don’t think I will ever really retire,” she says. Initially, she worked at a local gym where she did personal training and taught group fitness classes, but when the pandemic hit, she was laid off.

“I like to be with people,” she says. “When we moved, I didn’t realize that as you get older, how hard it is to make new friends. You don’t really realize how much you need other people.”

Six months ago, she was hired by Vivo. She had heard about the online program from her daughter, who works in geriatrics at Duke University Medical Center.

Levitan is a Duke graduate and has tapped into Duke’s ecosystem for some of his experts. Jamie Rincker, for example, Vivo’s head nutritionist, is a research dietitian clinician at Duke University’s Medical Center, where she specializes in senior health.

When Porter considers what she loves about her job right now, it’s easy. “I get so much more from my students than they get from me,” she says. “I enjoy meeting people. I feel like I am making a difference in other people’s lives. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. Right? Working as a virtual senior fitness trainer has given me a sense of purpose during the pandemic and in this stage of life.”

Vivo currently pays its 11 senior fitness trainers $30 per 45-minute class. Trainers get to work out of their house or a remote location and choose their own hours. But the workouts are prepared by Vivo, so the instruction is consistent from trainer to trainer. The secret sauce is the individual’s personality. Personal training certification that is NCCA-accredited such as certifications from the ACE (American Council On Exercise), ISSA (International Sports Sciences Association) and NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) is required.

New careers for an aging population

As the population ages, jobs like senior fitness trainer are expanding. In 2050, the population aged 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million, almost double the population in 2012, according to U.S. Census Bureau. This demographic swing is already generating new fields and opportunities for workers across the age spectrum.

I call these “jobs to ride the age wave” and devote a chapter to them in my book, “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+.” Senior fitness instructor is one of a multitude of growing job sectors serving an aging population. Other jobs on the rise include home modification pro, senior move manager, and patient advocate.

Like Porter, senior fitness trainers generally teach group classes and one-on-one sessions that typically run 45 minutes to an hour. Suitable exercise practices and an aptitude to judge a client’s fitness level is crucial.

Hours are usually flexible. Pay can range from $17 to $30 an hour, but in larger cities, rates can increase to $50 or more. Most health clubs collect the cost for the session from members and dole out a proportion to you.

Certification is not required by law, but like Vivo most fitness clubs require it. Several groups offer some type of credential. In addition to the groups above, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Y.M.C.A, Silver Sneakers and the Arthritis Foundation also have certifications.

One relative newcomer that I just learned about from a recent post on older fitness trainers that appeared on Next Avenue is StrongerU Senior Fitness. The course will run you $200.

The certifications can take several months to complete and then you must pass an in-person or online exam which can require a fee of up to $500 depending on the organization. 

The Vivo strength-building classes for older adults that Porter teaches generally consist of four to seven adults ranging in age from 52 to 85. And each session revolves around a series of exercises from squats to back rows using resistant exercise bands and marching in place.

Porter demonstrates the exercise, then carefully observes her students as they follow her lead.
“I’m always commenting ‘I like that. I like how you really make that happen. You look so strong today,’ And I quickly correct them if they aren’t doing it right.”

Clients might workout with five-pound weights or the resistant exercise bands as they flow through the program, depending on their level of fitness and stability. “We end with them gently stretching whatever muscles we really worked the hardest,” Porter says. “And then I send them off with a homework assignment, like do some balancing or go for a walk until I see them next.”

The biggest reward for Porter? “When class comes to an end and everyone, including me, has had a good laugh and is excited about the next time we’ll be together.”

Readers: Let us know what you love most about your work

Kerry Hannon is a leading expert and strategist on work and jobs, entrepreneurship, personal finance and etirement. Kerry is the author of more than a dozen books, including Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From HomeNever Too Old To Get Rich: The Entrepreneurs Guide To Starting a Business Mid-LifeGreat Jobs for Everyone 50+, and Money Confidence. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon

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