MIDDLE TOWNSHIP - Dottie Drake is a big believer in the health benefits of exercise. She is speaking from personal experience.
Drake, 64, owns Miracles Fitness in Middle Township, a gym that caters to customers of all ages and fitness levels.
"I bought the gym when I was 47. I had a total-knee replacement. I was taking 10 prescription drugs for high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes," she said.
But once she purchased the gym, she became one of its most regular customers. Today, she said, she doesn't need any regular prescription medicines and her diabetic symptoms have disappeared.
"Our health is our most vital asset. But we don't do anything to preserve it," said Drake, a registered nurse who for years worked in home-hospice care.
"As a nurse, we are taught about disease and illness, not about exercise and wellness," she said. "People think they get old because of their age. You get old because you lose muscle. But you can stay active into your 100s."
Drake's philosophy has served her business well. She franchised her Miracles Fitness concept at gyms in Louisiana and Indiana. She sold three other gyms in Northfield, Dennis Township and Galloway Township.
The Middle Township gym where she and her son, Nick Elisano, work has a dedicated low-impact exercise room near the entrance where newcomers and physical therapy patients can use the equipment at their own pace away from the more strenuous activity of the main gym.
The 10,000-square-foot space has a large room full of treadmills, rowing machines and other exercise equipment. Many of the machines rely on air-powered pneumatic resistance that customers can adjust with a push of a button.
Despite a lot of mid-morning activity, the gym is quiet enough to carry on normal conversation.
Several people sat at the juice bar chatting after their workouts.
Drake said she is proud that her gym attracts a good following among older customers who want to improve or maintain their health. But she is just as keen to keep her younger customers coming back.
Upstairs, the gym offers 45 classes ranging from yoga, Zumba and Pilates to a popular bootcamp and boxing training called Fight Fit. These are high-energy classes that attract a mix of stronger, fitter customers or those who are determined to join those ranks.
"People work harder when they're in a group. We try to make it fun," Elisano said. "It has to be more than just exercise. They can do that anywhere."
And the classes have a better retention rate than traditional gym memberships, which tend to taper off after the customer's first or second visit, Elisano said.
The gym's instructors tailor workouts for new customers and make sure they are comfortable with the equipment and techniques, he said.
"We try to have something for everyone. We'll make sure you have the blueprint for success," Elisano said.
Michele Ferrero, of Middle Township, joined the gym's bootcamp to lose weight. By the second month, she said she noticed a big change in her energy level.
"If I knew I would have the energy I have today, I would have done this 10 years ago," Ferrero said.
Drake said exercise coupled with a healthful diet are the building blocks for vitality at any age.
"You really have to be responsible for your own life. What are you doing to preserve your own health?" she said.
It's a philosophy she embraces herself.
Drake said she wants to be able to have as much fun with her youngest grandchildren as she's having with her oldest.
"I want to dance at all their weddings," she said.
Contact Michael Miller:
Location: 408 Rio Grande Ave., Rio Grande
Owner: Dottie Drake, of Upper Township