Evolving opportunities keep retired Atlantans fit and on the go

Atlanta’s retired population stays active in a variety of ways. It can take them on long-awaited trips, allow them to serve others and keep them pursuing physical fitness with a vital tenacity.

They’re finding innovative methods to burn calories and enhance their mental skills. They’re discovering stateside gems for vacationing and penciling those places onto their calendars for return trips. And they’re investing in their communities in new ways — reaching out across a long spectrum of age demographics with encouraging words and helping hands.

Making plans — whether they’re a framework for staying in shape, meeting others through service or just getting a change of scenery — allows those who have left or are planning to leave the workforce to stay engaged with their communities. The following stories show just a few of the ways Atlanta’s senior population is staying fit, well-traveled and involved.

Jiujitsu: ‘physical chess’

Rob Fulkus will turn 55 later this year, and he’s bent on keeping his mind and body in shape. He does so with the puzzle that is Brazilian jiujitsu. He’s about four years out from retirement as sales director for a medical device company. After that time, he plans to continue regularly with the activity he’s come to depend on as a mental and physical outlet.

“It’s like physical chess,” he said. “The game takes your mind over.”

For those who like to build physical exercise into their lives but find things such as running or weight lifting monotonous, jiujitsu is a great alternative because it requires so much mental strategy. Rolling, as participants call the workouts with partners, raises the heart rate. Fulkus, who began practicing the sport in 2010, said he’s learned to pace himself as he’s gotten older. Now, when he’s winded, he can find places to take breaks before going back on the offensive. Although he’s one of the older participants in his jiujitsu circle, he said there’s no reason more seniors can’t participate.

“It’s not that they’re too old to do it. It’s that this is a newer phenomenon,” he explains. “Not a lot of people are exposed to it.

“If I can do it, a lot of people can.”

Although it requires a good bit of technique and flexibility, the risk of injury from things such as head trauma is low. That makes it attractive to an older generation, according to Jake Jo, manager of American Top Team Atlanta. Jiujitsu classes are in demand at the Faulkner Road gym. Some local gyms even have dedicated “senior executive classes,” he said.

Like most other martial arts, jiujitsu has a levels system through which participants strive to rise. The first month of classes typically focuses on the development of flexibility and the mastering of basic grappling techniques, according to Jo. This process provides more of a workout than some participants expect.

“It’s way more calories than people might think,” said Jo, a who holds a blackbelt in jiujitsu. “You find out really quick if you like it or not.”

The activity is also a mental drill in that participants must constantly guess their opponents’ next moves and develop their own strategies. The cognitive engagement and physicality that jiujitsu requires can help alleviate a mental or emotional slump, Jo said.

“Regardless of age right now, the biggest thing we see coming through our gym is depression,” he said. “It really gives you self-confidence.”

Sticking closer to home: Domestic travel is in

Senior vacationers are making a shift homeward. That’s the pattern Olivia Vasquez has seen in her role as an in-house travel advisor with Atlanta-based Epperly Travel.

While off-shore cruising on large ships has been a go-to format for a huge number of senior vacationers in past years, many have begun making changes. This has especially been the case since the pandemic has added extra complications when planning a getaway.

“We’re seeing a lot of that generation start to pivot,” Vasquez said.

The new directions? Destination trips: bucket list and multi-stop visits to South Africa and Europe, along with domestic travel, a trend that has seen significant growth recently, Vasquez said.

She noted that one-stop stays at resorts with on-site amenities are very popular with seniors right now.

And this demographic tends to find something they like and stick with it. They’re returning to places they like that have opened back up after pandemic closures.

“A lot of senior travelers are pretty brand loyal,” Vasquez said.

She sees this type of client visit Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons resorts frequently. Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina, is another popular destination for older Atlantans looking for a convenient getaway. The approximately five-hour travel time makes it a doable drive for a lot of seniors.

Lodging options include an inn and stand-alone cottages, so visitors can make decisions based on their level of comfort in proximity to others. And would-be travelers who aren’t comfortable with face-to-face interactions outside the home can now seek no-contact trip advice.

And Cliff House Maine, in Cape Neddick, Maine, with its ocean-foam views, food and spa, is popular as vacationers can stay on-site for their entire visit, Vasquez said. Or visitors can venture into the nearby town. These destinations also usually offer golf cart or shuttle services on property.

Above all, and perhaps more than ever, seniors as a group are looking to travel.

According to Vasquez, they’re “ready to use their retirement.”

‘The opportunities aren’t lacking:’ Volunteer gigs evolve

Opportunities abound to help others, and in a time when older residents may have special considerations when it comes to in-person interactions, there are plenty of options for no-contact contributions.

Letter writing to other seniors, virtual life coaching and homework help for school-age children are popular areas for volunteering, according to Jadrien Grimes, community and civic engagement manager with Hands On Atlanta, an organization that matches volunteers with groups that need help.

Some seniors are comfortable leaving home, and for that population, Soccer in the Streets is a solid option. Its mission is to provide kids from diverse backgrounds access to the sport. Hands On Atlanta partners with 60 to 80 local food pantries. Grimes said they are a popular option owing to the fact that meals occur throughout the day.

“It allows a little bit of flexibility,” he said.

The organization also has several extra-busy stretches each year with its Hands On Atlanta week in October and its MLK Days of Service each January. These are times when organizers welcome extra hands. Interested parties can find more information at handsonatlanta.org.

Those who wish to find an appropriate fit for volunteering right now can consult Hands On Atlanta’s calendar for an idea of what’s needed. They can filter by age and area of interest. Would-be volunteers should expect to go through screenings with partner organizations. These processes may include background checks, COVID-19 vaccination requirements or negative COVID-19 test results from within certain timeframes.

The calendar contains anywhere from 15 to 70 volunteer opportunities on any given day. The website also has opportunities broken out according to whether they’re in-person or virtual. Users can create profiles so they receive information from Hands On Atlanta partner organizations that match their preferences.

“It’s very, very seamless. Our website is very user-friendly,” Grimes said.

The numbers for this year’s MLK Days of Service show an Atlanta that’s stepping up for others in a big way. Coverage on the Hands On Atlanta site from this year’s event states that the organization helped 1,500 participants serve 60 schools and nonprofits with some 200 volunteer endeavors.

And throughout the year, in between the special events that Atlanta’s charitable organizations put on, the city’s retired population has a variety of options if they’re looking to connect with and serve others.

“There’s plenty of work that needs to be done here, so the opportunities aren’t lacking,” Grimes said.

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