Alaska’s elderly population is one of the nation’s fastest-growing. The Anchorage Senior Center hosts dozens of programs focused on wellness and prevention to keep senior citizens healthy for years to come.

In tai chi movement, the body follows the mind. According to Tim Chinn, the Anchorage Senior Center’s fitness director, this ancient Chinese form of martial arts benefits both.

“Anybody of any age and any physical ability can start tai chi and improve in their health and get stronger,” Chinn said.

The senior center’s tai chi class is among the most popular of the 40 available. Chinn says tai chi isn’t just relaxing and calming; medical research has shown it can help people with diabetes, arthritis, and anxiety. When practiced by the elderly, they also benefit from increased strength and coordination.

“It really helps with balance -- and so, what we're trying to do is prevent people from falling,” Chinn said. “And so, it not only helps with balance and coordination and learning perception of your body, but also confidence.”

At the senior center, tai chi began with one class per week. Now there are eight -- a rise which reflects an overall increase in the popularity of senior fitness activities.

“A lot of people accept the theory that 70 is now the new 40, so they feel really comfortable exercising,” Chinn said. “A lot of the baby boomers have come of age now and they want to stay healthy.”

Most of the center’s programs are health-related, with the center's goal to help Alaska’s growing aging population take on a healthier lifestyle. Alaska's elderly population is currently about 80,000, and expected to reach 150,000 by 2020.

“You want someone to be healthier, you want them off their meds, you don't want them to have a caregiver if they don't have to,” said health and wellness coordinator Carmen Montano. “And that'll maybe save it for somebody else who does need it -- and maybe it'll save money in the long run, because people are healthier and they are taking care of themselves.”

Along with tai chi, fitness activities also include yoga, strength training, and Zumba exercises among many others.