With age comes wisdom. "And once I figured that out, I knew I had to make my body as wise as my brains," says Donna Sousa-Wright.
That's how the Irvine, Calif., woman, 58, describes her conversion nine months ago from an indulgent lifestyle to one of "age discipline."
She's up every morning at 6 a.m., dresses quickly and goes for a half-hour walk to start her day.
Sousa-Wright is typical of boomers nearing or over 60 — the sudden shift to exercise to keep the signs, symbols and stigma of aging at bay.
Will it last into their 70s?
While experts predict that boomers will shift more toward exercise in the future, no one knows yet whether these recent conversions will last.
Sousa-Wright promises to stay active. She's already lost 45 pounds with diet and exercise changes and feels terrific, she says.
Her goal: "It's all about always being the best I can be." That's a common attitude among boomers who suddenly find themselves slowing, weighed down by age and lack of exercise.
The baby boomers running, walking, swimming and using exercise machines are changing the face of aging, experts say. It's all part of the video era, the if-Jane-Fonda-and-Richard-Simmons-can-do-it-I-can-too mentality.
After all, the old sit and the young are out doing it.
Like Linda Edwards. At 64, she's on her at-home Pilates chair three times a week doing cardio exercises and stretching for 30 minutes.
For Edwards, who tends to take a cynical attitude toward many life demands, the exercises are critical: "I do all levels of difficulty like you would in a studio," she says. "It works every major muscle group. It's challenging."
In between, she swims a couple of times a week, does some water aerobics, and walks the dog. "And I do serious dog walking maybe twice a week," she says. "Actually, I try to do something every day but Sunday, when I eat whatever I want and move as little as possible."
The scheduled activity, which she began about three years ago, gives her more energy, she says. "This is not about relocating the fat," she says. "It can settle where it will. But doing what I do keeps a sense of aging at bay."
While these boomer gals are new to exercise, Norma Shechtman claims a life-long love affair with all types of exercise and fitness routines, from cycling to treadmill to general fitness. She's also a teacher and has a master's degree in exercise kinesiology.
"I absolutely feel younger," says the Irvine resident, 63. "There's no way I feel my age. And it's all from exercise."
Most of her clients feel the same, she says. And many have been with her 20 years or more.
"The main thing is to do what makes you feel happy," she says. "Run, bike, hike. Do it to de-stress."
She plans to de-stress herself by climbing California's Mount Whitney, 14,505 feet, in preparation for an 18,000-foot climb in October to the Mount Everest base camp. "I can't go all the way yet," she says.
But while most boomers work out to improve how they look or feel, a few, like Len Todisco of Coto de Caza, Calif., exercise for more selfish reasons.
Todisco spends about 10 minutes every morning and every afternoon sitting on a balance ball. He has done it for three years, improving his flexibility and ridding himself of back pain.
"Basically, I'm working on core balance," he says. "The body angles, the natural way the arms hang, all of that. Everybody has a left or right torque. I'm strengthening and turning my body to its natural balance position. It's extremely easy to do."
Why do it at all?
"To hit a golf ball farther," Todisco says.
He learned the technique from David Wright, assistant coach of the USC golf team (wrightbalance.com).
Does it work?
"I play golf at least twice a week at the Coto de Caza golf club," Todisco says. "My balls go farther than they did with a lot less effort."
And for Todisco, that's keeping aging at bay.