There's a new reality TV show that's hit the public access airwaves in Los Angeles. But in this program, there's no remote wilderness for contestants to brave; no bullying bridezillas to please; and no bachelors or bachelorettes to woo. Instead, the six-week-long program, called "On The Move," features 12 senior citizen contestants — all self-proclaimed couch potatoes — who have vowed to move off the sofa and into active life styles.
Each week features a different physical activity. In episode one, it's a contest to see who can best samba, merengue and salsa their way to victory in a Zumba fitness event.
"Exercise helps with your overall physical health, strength balance that all becomes an important part of mobility and fall prevention," says show creator and host, Scott Kaiser, a UCLA family practice doctor who specializes in geriatrics. "It helps with your mental health and well being."
Contestant and Silver Lake resident David Epstein, 62, used to hit the gym daily and the dance clubs at night to work off steam from his high-pressure gig as a writer and editor for a national men's magazine.
"I was in pretty good shape," says Epstein, "I was trim, I had no medical problems I can remember."
But after retiring, Epstein's go-to destination became his easy chair.
"I sat in it, read in it, ate in it, sometimes fell asleep in it, finally I was diagnosed with obesity. This was such a shock to me," he laughs, "I hadn't really realized I had gained almost 100 pounds."
Depression soon followed. And he, like many older Americans, isolated himself and considered exercise the enemy. That's how contestant Lavada Theus used to feel. Until a colleague suggested that she sign up for the show, the retired teacher and school administrator from Baldwin Hills spent the entirety of each morning in bed, watching television.
"I felt that after retirement I deserved the right just to lay there and that's sort of what I did. So I got sort of sedentary after my work years," she says.
But not anymore. As a show contestant, Theus committed to a daily walking program that she continues today.
"Having to walk, I felt better," Theus says. "Then I started to lose some weight and my body started to tone up and I like that. That was pretty good. I have a new man in my life and I was, like, you know, this works!"
"On The Move" features weekly guests: Well-known authors, doctors, chefs and just plain ol' folk — like Miss June. She's a 94-year-old gym rat who on the show's first episode earned cheers, hoots and hollers with her straight-talkin' comments on sex.
"I'm glad you mentioned sex life," she said to guest expert, Dr. Walter M. Bortz II, author of "Dare to be 100" That's very important and I'm almost 95."
Kaiser says the guest visits from active older seniors who are in their late 80s and 90s, inspire viewers and contestants by showing them that healthy, robust aging is within reach.
"They told our contestants, 'Hey look guys, you guys are kids. Sixty-seven-years-old? That's nothing, but you’re at a turning point in your life and you need to make this change now so when you’re 95, like me, you’re still moving and feeling good.' And that was powerful," says Kaiser.
Powerful enough to keep Epstein and Theus committed to living more active lives, even though the taping of the show is now complete.
"I've found myself happier," says Theus. "In the past I've got through bouts of depression and I don't have that now."
And what about her team mate David Epstein? "I got a lot out of it," he says. "I think the most obvious thing is I lost 15 pounds."
And the former couch potato says he now walks at least 3 miles a week: "Which for me is very, very good. When I go walking down Sunset Boulevard I'm shocked at how far I end up going. And it feels good!
Kaiser, says he plans to take "On The Move" and its message of active living to senior centers throughout California.