Starting an Exercise Program at Age 65+

with Eric Levitan,

Founder and CEO, Vivo

This week on Art of Aging, host Michael Hughes chats with Eric Levitan, Founder and CEO of Vivo, for part two in the series. During this episode, Mike and Eric discuss the key elements of success for anyone planning an exercise program, with a focus on consistency, challenge, periodization, and fun. They also highlight the features of Vivo, an online exercise company that offers small group classes with cognitive exercises and socialization. The episode emphasizes the importance of exercise for older adults and the potential for exercise to improve quality of life as people age. Don’t miss it!
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Highlights from this week’s conversation include:

  • Eric’s background and journey in starting Vivo (1:39)
  • The elements of success for exercise programs (4:32)
  • Making exercise fun and social (7:13)
  • The importance of safety in exercise (9:05)
  • Tips for starting a new exercise (11:01)
  • Measuring your progress (14:36)
  • The importance of periodization (17:18)
  • Vivo’s benefits and features (19:53)
  • Growing confidence with age (20:47)


Abundant Aging is a podcast series presented by United Church Homes. These shows offer ideas, information, and inspiration on how to improve our lives as we grow older. To learn more and to subscribe to the show, visit


Michael Hughes 00:07
Hi, and welcome to The Art of Aging part of the Abundant Aging Podcast Series for United Church Homes. On this show, we look at what it means to age in America and in other places around the world with positive and empowering conversations that challenge, encourage and inspire all the age with abundance. As part of our aging innovators series, we’re back with Eric Levitan, who is the founder and CEO of vivo, which is an innovative online exercise company that combines cognitive exercises and physical exercises as well as socialization. Learn that on the last show. So exercise with brain games. And it’s something that a lot of people are interested in, including an IH, the gigabit grant, Eric wanted to throw that in there. So congrats on that. Welcome, Eric. And today, we’re gonna be talking about exercise, let’s see past the age of 65. And no, 65 is kind of an arbitrary age in our world. But we’re talking about really how to start here today. And so we’ll get into that subject, Eric. But before we get into it, I do want to say that the discussion we’re having is just our opinion, we’re not medical professionals, before you start, or modify any exercise program, please check with your doctor, please check with your medical professional, so that you have that backup. So now that that legal stuff is out of the way, just let’s start off with we did the last time era, just brief background, you’re an entrepreneur, you had a what’s next, you had had the fortune of having a great series of you know, great, what’s next opportunity from your family, having your last company, and then you found yourself in the world of exercise and balance. And you could be doing a lot of different things. Why this?

Eric Levitan 01:39
Well, it was the very, thank you so much, Mike, it was the very personal observation of watching the decline in quality of life of my own parents. And the more I dove into what was happening with them, and what their doctors were telling them, the more I saw an opportunity to be able to help create awareness and education on how important exercise is for older adults. And not just exercise, but how important maintaining strength is for your health and wellness, and quality of life as you age. And what a wonderful opportunity there was to make a dent in the universe, and really not only provide this education and awareness, but to create a program that will be really accessible. Knowing that exercise and strength training in particular feels a little intimidating to a lot of people. And so how do we make this more approachable, make this more accessible, such that everyone participates? Because it really is one of the most important things that we all should be doing as we get older.

Michael Hughes 02:37
So I’m gonna do a little bit of a lesson back here, because this is the second episode of a three part series we’re doing on exercise and aging. But if I were to kind of, you know, teach back what vivo is, this is what I understand small group exercise done online facilitated by zoom at a level that is appropriate for you, you will kick that kick it off with COVID initial assessment, you’ll look at somebody’s space, you’ll look at the area that they have to work in the looks assess, do an initial assessment on flexibility, strength, and then your coach through live online sessions will will coach that person into exercise at the level it’s kind of right for them. It also has brain games and other things to help improve cognition and balance. And so small group class socialization, physical exercise stretching. So did I get that right, Eric on explaining what vivo is, what did I leave out.

Eric Levitan 03:36
So the only thing I would add is we’re very focused on the evidence based nature of what we’re providing. And we actually want to measure outcomes, so that we can communicate back to our members that they can see all these gains and really understand what’s happening. So you had mentioned that initial assessment, we actually do a one on one assessment over zoom every two months, where we’ve baselined, where you’re at with your strength and balance, and we reassess to get what that rate of change is. And it is amazing to see how much rate of change there is in just a two month time period. And literally everybody sees a pretty significant bump in those first few months in particular.

Michael Hughes 04:14
That’s great. And I know that you’re working with the NIH to study it, you’re doing it with diabetes, I mean, it’s a great potential here, but let’s just say in general, okay, you know, what are the key elements of success for anybody who’s planning an exercise program?

Eric Levitan 04:31
So the single most foundational element of any kind of progress and impact from exercise is consistency. Consistency has to be that for if you’re building a house, the floor is consistent. It can’t be something that you do once in a while, right? Maybe this week, I will exercise twice. And next week, I don’t exercise at all and the week after that exercise once and then a week after that I don’t exercise at all. Consistency is really that floor. That’s something that you have to build in as a habit, and really focusing on behavioral change for yourself, and figuring out how to make that a habit. But really, that’s really that single most important thing is if it’s not done consistently, you will not see the results in the outcomes that you’d hoped to see. The second piece on top of that is, it’s got to be a little bit challenging. Our body responds very well to challenges. And so making sure that there’s a general rule around, if you can do eight to 12 reps of a particular exercise, and those last couple are hard, that’s a great place to be, and making sure there’s a sufficient level of challenge there. Because again, as we talked about in the first podcast, challenge is something that the human body craves to promote growth, that’s why we progress is to rise to that challenge. So an absence of challenge, we don’t typically see that kind of growth. The third element is really what’s referred to as periodization, which is on top of challenge, you want to mix it up a lot, you want to continue to confuse the body and what’s going on, and it responds accordingly. We are really responsive as a species, we want challenge, we want variation. If you do the same thing all the time, your body adapts very quickly. And so thinking about what does that mean, for me from an exercise program? Well, mix it up, you know, if you’re doing cardiovascular work, don’t just walk or jog, or swim, do all of those, do them all, on different days, ride a bike, find different things that challenge you in different ways. And the same holds true for strength training is don’t just do the same three strength training exercises that you do every day, you want to bring in new exercise that also, by the way, challenges the mind, that’s a wonderful thing. And then the fourth and final element of what we believe it really incorporates, or you need to incorporate to be successful with bringing exercise into your life is it’s got to be fun. If it’s not fun, you’re not going to do it. And so how do you make exercise fun? The answer to that is different for everybody who’s listening. But there’s generally a common theme across individuals. And that is being a part of a supportive community. And so those four kinds of pillars, if you will, are really integral for what we’ve built with vivo. We want to make sure we do this consistently, and we want to see at least twice a week participation. We want there to be a level of challenge and help you understand what it means to get to a level of challenge. We want to embrace periodization and variation. We’re constantly mixing up what we want to do, and this needs to be social, it needs to make you feel like you’re part of a community so that you keep coming back, which just reinforces those other three things.

Michael Hughes 07:43
And that’s the thing, you know, when we look at sort of like the tropes of exercise, you know, when you’re talking about exercise and senior living and this the other thing we don’t really talk about a lot of things, you know, we talk about share exercises, we talk about cheerio, though we talk about it just seems so so mundane. But you know, I was just reflecting as you talk about the rise of all of the the past 1520 years of all the different sports chains you have out there. I mean, I’m an orange theory guy like solid core, you know, those elements, I can see that with Orangetheory, you’ll never do the same exercise routine twice, you know, that sort of thing. But when you think about pure bars or or when you think about SoulCycle, CrossFit or anything like that, you can find all that. I mean, there’s a reason why these things are sticky, right?

Eric Levitan 08:26
That’s right, that’s right. And leaning into each of those four elements that we just talked about, every program that you just mentioned, has a component of those four pillars built into it. And so you don’t have to do one of those programs, you don’t have to have the thought you don’t have to do orange theory. But if you’re going to build this into your life, figure out how to represent those four pillars that are meaningful for you. And it might be different from person to person, it absolutely will be different from person to person. But there it’s really important to think about and then obviously something we didn’t talk about, but it’s probably from going with the same analogy of the floor is consistency, there’s probably the ground which is safe. And you always have to make sure that safety is this constant. And what does safety mean in terms of exercise, that means understanding form that means understanding impact. That means understanding how to listen to your body. There’s this wonderful expression I heard once I talked about this often, if you listen when your body whispers it doesn’t have to scream. So I’ll let that sink in.

Michael Hughes 09:32
I love that if you okay, that’s gonna be a quote, we’re gonna pull for this episode. I love that.

Eric Levitan 09:37
It’s a wonderful quote. And really even, you know, throughout my life every time I’ve had a significant injury that I’ve experienced, my body has whispered before that there have been little telltale signs of something that wasn’t right that I ignored. I noticed and consciously ignored as I moved in that I ended up hurting myself. So it is learning how to be in tune with your body, learning what it means to have challenges. And look at the end of the day, when especially with strength training, there is a piece of this where you will experience some soreness. And that’s a very standard response, a physiological response to challenging your muscles. Understanding the difference between soreness and an acute sharp pain is another like one of those many things just kind of learned. Because an acute sharp pain is backed, that’s never a good thing when you’re exercising. And so really what we’re ultimately talking about is getting the guidance of an individual who understands how to exercise and bring exercise into the life of an older adult. And that’s where we are so focused on this is not a video, this is something where there is a very skilled professional who is watching you do those exercises and can correct your form can modify or respond if you are experiencing pain or discomfort, and be able to give you those cues such that you can be kept safe.

Michael Hughes 11:01
Right, right. Right. Right. Because then you know, form is so important. So you know, if I mean, if there’s no vivo around, and you’re by yourself, and you’re trying a brand new exercise you have any tips for just having to understand from first, I guess, right?

Eric Levitan 11:16
Sure, always a few basic tips of things just to consider, always start slowly, move through a movement slowly, get really comfortable with the weight that you’re using, whether it’s your body weight, or whether it’s an external weight that you’re lifting. Don’t ever start doing something that is so challenging. Here’s the interesting thing that I think most people intuitively know or experience when they do fitness, when your body begins to get tired, that’s when your form breaks down. And so if you start off too aggressively, such that it’s really challenging, right up front, you will, your form will begin to suffer. And so anytime you start, if you’re going to incorporate this yourself without the involvement of a trainer who’s watching you, you really want to start slowly and gently to make sure that you understand the movements really well, and that they don’t cause pain or discomfort. Because if they are going to cause pain or discomfort, and you do it at a really significantly challenging level, that’s only going to exacerbate the problem.

Michael Hughes 12:21
Yeah, I know that, you know, sometimes when I start to exercise and start to do a new exercise or whatever, I’ll start slowly and then just kind of work my way through the form. And I can hear my bones kind of creek a little bit. And I can feel myself limber up a little bit, you know, and then maybe I’ll try it a little bit more. Well.

Eric Levitan 12:38
Yeah. And you just mentioned something that’s also really important, we haven’t really talked about much, which is in terms of range of motion and flexibility is often when we’re doing an exercise that we haven’t done before, it’s causing us to move in a way that we might not be as comfortable with. And it’s putting pressure on our joints, on our ligaments, on our tendons. And so being really intentional about how you move through that motion is a really critical part of this.

Michael Hughes 13:04
Yeah, and you know, so let’s say, I’m in an exercise program, you know, I’m doing I know, I’ve experienced this with my and look, I, when I used to exercise, I did everything wrong, I did the same exercises every single day. I did all but you know, people want to know that this stuff works, right? People want to know that they’re not hitting a plateau. Everyone wants to measure how well they’re doing. I mean, what sort of tips would you give for someone that really wants to sort of keep track of how they’re doing or to really know that something might be working for them or rather not working for me?

Eric Levitan 13:39
So there’s a couple parts of this answer that I’m excited to kind of talk

Michael Hughes 13:44
about. I like to ask five questions at once. By the way,

Eric Levitan 13:48
I’ll try and remember all of those parts of those questions. The first is some sort of baseline of an exercise right is track where you start and then track how you progress. And for us at vivo, we actually use a couple of scientifically validated assessments. One is called the short performance physical battery, which we do for SPB for short, which we do for balance. And the other is called the rectally Jones, SR fitness stats, which is really around strength and endurance and agility. And we start every new member that joins our program, we baseline through a series of activities, how many times you can sign up and sit down in a chair in 30 seconds, how many bicep curls you can do in 30 seconds, etc. And then we do that every two months. If you’re a member of a program like vivo, that is tracking progress and outcomes that’s kind of inherently built into the program. If this is something you want to do on your own, then find those activities that you feel like are a good barometer of where you are from a fitness perspective. If you’re focusing on cardiovascular health, maybe it’s how long it takes you to walk a mile or jog a mile. If you are focusing on strength, maybe it is how many bicep curls you can do in 30 seconds. There’s a number of different ways that you can benchmark where you’re at. But that’s a really important element of this. Because if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it right. So we want to be able to measure how we’re doing because this is the other inevitable part about fitness is we talked about one of those core elements being challenged. Often we reach a point where we plateau. And that’s a time that we should recognize, it’s time to up the challenge. And so we see a very predictable curve, when customers join our program. The first two months are always this wonderful bump, right? Either people are maybe walking, but they’re not doing strength training, or they’re not really doing any fitness at all. And so we see a wonderful bump in those first two months, generally about a 25% increase in strength in the first two months, the next two months, we also see a good bump up, maybe not quite as high, maybe an additional 15%. But we still see a bump, but it begins to taper off at the six month mark, we begin to see people start to flatten out in terms of what that progress is. One of the great benefits of measuring that progress is that it’s an indication to us that it’s time for us to increase that level of challenge. And we talked to our members about what that means. So in the previous podcast, we talked about our level system of what exercises are, you can start off a push up by doing a push up against the wall. At some point when you plateau and your strength, maybe we want to move that push up to a push up off the back of a chair or a countertop. Or if you’re already there, maybe we want to get you onto the floor and do a push up off of your knees on the floor. For each of these exercises that we incorporate. Or if you incorporate it into your own routine, there’s ways to regress and progress every single one of them. And being able to see that you’re plateauing is a wonderful indicator that that’s your body’s way of saying it has adapted to what you’re doing. It’s time to up the challenge and the intensity level.

Michael Hughes 16:53
But then it’ll be all achy and sore again, and I don’t want that. Just going back to the to the you know, often an exercise problem that I’ve seen, it’s like, okay, I want you to do as many reps as possible within a certain timeframe, you know, and two things come to mind, I always sort of taught time under tension that you want to do it really slowly and all that. And the other thing is form. I mean, you don’t want to do as many reps as possible when your form is bad, right?

Eric Levitan 17:18
So here’s I’ll take us back to the earlier part of the conversation when we talked about periodization. And this is a wonderful example of why periodization is so important. We actually have two types of muscle fibers: slow twitch and fast twitch, and they’re responsible for different things. And doing exercises in different ways actually causes us to engage our muscles in different ways. So traditionally, we also often think and you said your example earlier is as many reps as possible in a given amount of time that’s really focused on speed. And something that’s generally referred to as muscular endurance. Then there’s another kind of way of engaging our muscles, which is what I talked about earlier, where you’re really looking for that eight to 12 rep range where you’re kind of spent at, you know, 10, or 11, or 12. That’s something that’s referred to as hypertrophy. And then there’s something called power, which is moving weight quickly. These all serve a purpose, and maintain our health and our independence and our quality of life. Focusing on each one of those is important. And that’s why working in an exercise program that understands the science of maintaining these different, you know, variations of strength is really important, because our muscular endurance, and our hypertrophy strength is what will prevent us from falling. But if you do fall, it’s power that will catch you so you don’t face plants and do real damage to yourself. And so that’s maybe a good example to help people understand why it’s important to do these different things. So we’ll work into Vivo programming, where if we’re doing maybe a shoulder press is a good example, will push our shoulders up as fast as possible, right, that’s focusing on power. Because when you fall, you’re going to put your arms out and you’re going to try and catch yourself. And that’s where power comes into play. As opposed to maybe just doing regular shoulder press reps where you’re going to struggle and get on that 10th or 11th rep is a different kind of exercise. And so kind of back to that whole concept of periodization where we want to incorporate everything that you just mentioned. It’s not that one is better than another, you want to do it all.

Michael Hughes 19:29
Well Eric That’s all great points. Great. Kanye just really enjoyed the conversation as always, and we’re gonna bring this one to an end. And listeners please stay tuned for more. We have another episode that has young software previous episodes so no matter what order you’ll listen to him just wasn’t doing real quick, Eric, where can we find you?

Eric Levitan 19:53
You can find us at Team That’s t a M vi vo you’re a part of A team, when you join vivo and you have the ability just to sign up for a free class, see what this is all about? We know that there’s an intimidation factor when it comes to exercise, especially for people that haven’t done this in a little while, or maybe never. And so feel free to join us for a free class. See that this is something that you can absolutely do, you will enjoy and you’ll probably feel better at the end of So, Team

Michael Hughes 20:27
That’s great. Well, we always like to ask ourselves questions that sort of surprise us about ourselves, and their views on Aging at the end of these things. There are three episodes where we did one question last time, and someone asked you this. When you think about how you’ve aged, what do you think has changed about you or grown with you that you really like about yourself?

Eric Levitan 20:47
What a wonderful question. I think I am a much more confident individual, in my 50s than I’ve ever been before in my life, my ability to not only know who I am, but how to relate to other individuals, how to effectively communicate, how to really connect in a deeper, meaningful way. Those are all things that I feel like I’ve learned, you know, or really gotten significantly better at as I’ve gotten older. And in a place now where, you know, back in the day, if I had to go into a party with a bunch of people that I didn’t know at all, I would be terrified. I welcome that opportunity. Now, I really can’t

Michael Hughes 21:30
believe you as anything else, completely affable, sociable, a loving person, sort of probably you’re doing such a great sense of purpose and excitement of what he’s doing. So that surprises me, but that’s very cool.

Eric Levitan 21:46
I am shocked at the level of confidence and, and maybe connected to this, that I feel as I’ve aged. It’s been really wonderful.

Michael Hughes 21:56
Yeah. And it sounds like this is kind of a richness of experience that you really enjoy. It’s not arrogance at all that it was the richness that you bring in this which is awesome.

Eric Levitan 22:03
Well, thank you. Well said.

Michael Hughes 22:04
Yeah. Well, I’m going to end it there. I want to thank you guys, the listeners, for listening to this episode of The Abundant Aging podcast series of aging from United Church Homes and we want to hear from you. What’s changed about you as you’ve aged that you’d love? What do you think about exercise as you grow older? What inspired you about this conversation? What do you hate about this conversation? What do you think we should know? We want to hear from you. So visit us at the abundant aging to share your ideas. Find us on Youtube under United Church homes, listen to them all in bunches and bunches of content. You can also find us at United Church And I want to pay special call out to the Ruth Frost Parker Center, which is all about abundant aging and has a wonderful symposium in October of every year. Check it out at United Church Shout out to Team Team we’re all a team Viva vi Find Eric and his gang over there. And you the listeners. Thank you again for listening. We will see you next time.