Building Up the Baby Boomers

Fitness entrepreneur Jonas Deffes is breaking into a largely untapped market with his brand new concept, Peak Forever.

I n the ’80s, the fitness trend was all about neon spandex and feeling the burn to tunes like “Let’s Get Physical.” Now, those former aerobicizers are looking for something else in their fitness routine.

New Orleanian Jonas Deffes is catering his newest fitness concept and center, Peak Forever, specifically to the baby boomer market. Open only a few months, Peak Forever already has 60 members and Deffes says he expects to ultimately serve 300 mature clients at his 1,200-square-foot studio at 4500 Magazine St.

“We are extending our services and tapping into a market where there is clearly a need,” says Deffes, who is also a personal trainer. “We found that older clients in their 50s, 60s and older needed a place to go to exercise. We are serving clients who want to get excited about being fit again.”

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Deffes operates some of the most successful fitness boot camps in the area, including the New Orleans Adventure Boot Camp and Supra CrossFit Body Transformation Center. He holds a license with the Louisiana State Board of Health as a sports therapist and a certified personal and strength trainer. He’s also a Level One CrossFit coach and a National Exercise and Sports Trainer Association certified adventure boot camp instructor/owner.

Since 2003, when he opened his first pain therapy clinic to help people with chronic and acute pain from sports and fitness injuries, Deffes has continued to build on his successes, growing his company into a six-figure business and becoming one the top 100 fitness entrepreneurs in the industry according to Fitness Business.

Deffes says that the departure into this new target market is “a big risk but we are confident it will pan out.”

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He has good reason for his confidence. The fitness industry is growing, and its potential remains huge. According to data from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, the U.S. health club industry pulls in about $16 billion in annual revenue. Over the last 20 years, the number of people with club memberships has more than doubled and the number of clubs has nearly tripled.

Within the booming fitness marketplace, Deffes saw a niche that was not being specifically catered to: all those baby boomers. According to U.S. Census reports, there are 78 million baby boomers — defined as the group born between 1946 and 1964 — and they make up about 26 percent of the U.S. population. Not known as the healthiest generation, a recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that a sample of baby boomers had higher rates of hypertension, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol than their parents’ generation.

“I’ve always been about helping people; that’s why I got into fitness,” Deffes said. “Now, I want to reach out to a more mature client. Many people mistakenly assume that their decreased vigor is just an unavoidable effect of aging, but it is actually a result of low fitness levels. You can’t stop yourself from getting older, but you can stop living with below-normal levels of strength, fitness and health, and a low quality of life. This program isn’t about building hard bodies, it’s fitness that might simply be about being able to pick up your grandchild.”

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Deffes says an older client’s goals are typically a bit different from those just looking for weight loss. Sure, many want to lose weight, but they may also be focused on improving their posture, lowering their cholesterol, increasing bone density against osteoporosis, alleviating joint pain and avoiding falls.

“Our clients don’t want to feel patronized or babied,” says Heidi Sherman, a Peak Forever trainer. “They want a challenging experience that works at their speed.”

The program begins with a thorough consult with Peak Forever staff that takes into account physical limitations due to diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and other health conditions.

Deffes also operates the New Orleans Adventure Boot Camp and Supra CrossFit Body Transformation Center.

“We offer individual modifications to simplify movements and reduce intensity,” says Deffes.

“This was something I could manage,” says Peak Forever client, Martin Covert, 63, a former Times-Picayune writer and now full-time actor. “I was to a point where I was a wimp when it came to opening jars and was starting to have trouble pulling T-shirts over my head to get them off. Weak.”

Covert is happy to see his improvement.

“My waistline is slowly and methodically shrinking, my arms and shoulders are finally showing strength, my posture is naturally improving because my abs and core are tighter and more firm, “ he says. “Peak has treated me to a new sense of accomplishment because of the design of the mostly non-stressful workouts. Who knew it was relatively easy to gain strength by rowing, ski pulling, lifting increasing greater weights and doing every kind of floor and wall exercise imaginable? Doing it all under the close watch of trainers who make sure you prevent injury is also a huge plus in my book.”

The program focuses on obtainable goals. Gone are bulky machines and clanging free weights. Deffes uses low-impact equipment and builds cardiovascular strength with control that puts less stress on joints.

“We are increasing our client’s stamina and mobility,” says Sherman. “We want to increase our client’s range of motion and work at their speed.”

Ann Farmer, a 65-year-old real-estate agent, started the program six weeks ago and says she enjoys the variety of exercises and the individual attention Peak Forever offers. She says the groups are small and focus on form and each client’s respective abilities.

“I recently lost 80 pounds and knew it was time to get in shape,” she says. “Pilates just wasn’t enough. I came in with the goal to do one pushup. I can now do five pushups on my knees. I’m still working on doing one regular pushup, but I feel so proud of my progress. I never worry that they will push me too hard.”

It’s proven that regular exercise provides numerous health benefits in older adults, including improvements in blood pressure, diabetes, lipid profile, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis and neurocognitive function. Regular physical activity is also associated with decreased mortality and age-related morbidity in older adults.

“You know, as we get older it’s not just about our appearance,” says client Regina Valenti, a 55-year-old paralegal. “We worry about quality of life. We are looking at and more worried about our mortality.”

A recent Harvard alumni study found that modest increases in life expectancy were possible even in those patients who did not begin regular exercise until age 75.

“There is a history of heart disease on both sides of my family, and after I came down with pericarditis in 1989, I started a doctor-prescribed aerobic workout program, “ says Covert. “I started working out to increase my strength and breath control. Now, later in life, after knee problems (under control by diet and taking glucosamine), and a diagnosis of “thin bones” that leads to osteoporosis, doctors suggested a greater upper-body workout regimen to prevent possible damage.”

 You won’t see any big, bulky machines at Peak Forever. instead, the focus is on low impact equipment and building cardio strength.

Deffes knows his exercise program is working but believes that the social aspect of his program is just as important to his clients’ success. Clients enter into his clean and streamlined facility and interact with a computer that tracks their goals. They can check in on the progress of others and encourage one another. They can also see what’s going on in the book clubs and many social events being offered.

“This is a caring environment,” says Farmer. “We are getting together for a fundraisers for cancer and training as a group for the Crescent City Classic. It’s just such a supportive environment.”

Deffes is starting his business locally with 10 locations around the Gulf Coast and plans to eventually go national with this idea after he says he works out the kinks and schedules and builds his advisory board of experts.

A social media expert, he believes he gets great results from his online presence by offering convenience and useful content. “We also use texting to stay in touch with clients because it’s immediate,” he says. “People are always checking their phones.”

Formerly a sponsored skateboard champion, Deffes has evolved into a successful businessman and a bit of a social worker.  

“I like to feel good about what I do,” he says. “I don’t have to be in the spotlight. I just want to do something that will make my children proud of me. This is my way to be creative. I’ve had a lot of success with fitness. I am not just that skateboard guy with a beard. I want to create a better product and life for my clients.”

“We are not Curves or Silver Sneakers,” he adds. “We are an exciting new options for seniors to take control of their fitness in a supportive and fun environment.”
In such a short amount of time, Deffes already has clients singing Peak Forever’s praises.

“I can get the pickle jar open in a snap now,” says Covert. “And my T-shirts are better fitting and lift off easily after just a few months of these workouts.”


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