For John Seward, making it to the gym isn't an option. It's a necessity.

"I'm not going to chase women or gain a six-pack. I'm going to stay alive," said Seward, 62, who is determined to stay healthy and mobile through exercise as he ages.

Seward, who lives in Burnsville, moved on from lifting a few weights in his garage to the recently opened Welcyon, a fitness center in Edina designed specifically for ages 50 and older.

One of its benefits: You won't hear the sound of weights clanking as people do their reps. The weight-training equipment is air-powered, providing the desired amount of pressure without the physical weights that are sometimes hard to control. The club provides all seated equipment, with the exception of one standard elliptical machine.

With more and more baby boomers looking to stay mentally and physically healthy, clubs catering to the 50-plus crowd are "popping up all over the place," said Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging.

"Research shows that exercise can be as effective, if not more, than medication," he said. "By doing a basic fitness program, people can be stronger, walk up stairs better and prevent falling or reduce the risk of falling, which is really important since research shows that one of three people over the age of 65 fall every year."

Milner suggests that baby boomers do some form of cardiovascular fitness at least 2 1/2 hours a week and do strength training two to three times a week, especially working the legs.

"For many older people, if you can't get out of a chair or bed and you're not stable in your legs, then there's a big problem," he said. "Work your legs, because those are your foundation."

Seward said he was reasonably active at the gym in his 20s, but found it easier to resist the urge to work out when he began juggling responsibilities at work and at home. Since January, he has undergone open-heart surgery and a kidney transplant.

"You wake up one day and you're 60 and not 20 and you don't know where the time has gone," he said.

For Billie Poorman, 67, of Minneapolis, working out has given her energy and a confidence boost she hasn't felt in years. After she turned 50, gyms never appealed to her, until she joined the Edina Welcyon. A second branch recently opened in Bloomington.

"A lot of people who go to the gym are just maintaining their weight or it's a social thing, especially for thirty-somethings, whereas for us, it's more than that," she said.

Seward seconded that idea. "Some people who have medical problems will be there just to stay young or stay fit or look better," he said. "But a whole bunch of people are in the same boat as I was and are there to stay alive."

Hannah Gruber is a Twin Cities freelance writer.