Every day, 10,000 people are turning 65 in the United States. By 2030, the fastest-growing segment of the population will be people over the age of 85. We can only imagine the impact this staggering shift in societal demographics will have on our economic, social and physical well-being, but when it comes to exercise and aging, we know that appropriate programming for baby boomers is one way to drive ancillary revenue.
Baby boomers represent one of the largest aging groups in the world, not to mention the most easily retained, according to statistics from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). They want successful aging with fitness programs designed to fit their needs, and they have the funds to pay for it. Specialty programs that focus on cognitive skills and flexibility training as well as fast-twitch muscles maintenance will add value to baby boomers' memberships by addressing their specific needs.
Unfortunately, it seems that the fitness industry is focused on developing programs that make the fit fitter while there remains a lack of seasoned instructors and trainers investigating how to motivate the aging athlete. This does not bode well for the almost 80 percent of people who currently do not exercise in a fitness facility and may be in need of help.
Programming that highlights social interaction must be our focus in the years to come. Engaging the older active adult using our fitness facilities during off-peak hours is both efficient and ideal for this demographic. As fitness experts often encourage us to remember, there is still a young person dwelling inside of everyone.
Many older adults look at current programming and think, "This is for me... later," or, "I don't fit this demographic... yet." Our industry has some great success stories and some struggles with programs such as Silver Sneakers and Silver & Fit. These types of classes focus on improving and/or maintaining functional capacity and independence, but we need more programs that appeal to the over-50 crowd that may be categorized as physically elite or fit.
Traditionally, the over-65 market is separated into three physical aging categories: independent, frail or dependent. According to Fabio Comana, director of continuing education for the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), more mature populations often do not become independent. They either avoid exercise altogether because the programs offered are too much for them, or they ignore what we offer because it fits their needs but not their desires.
Appealing to Older Adults
The boomer generation is quite savvy and will need programs that are appropriately named and designed. Program instructors should be properly educated to draw their attention, money and membership. Programs such as Zumba Gold, which provides modified, low-impact moves, and BODYVIVE from Les Mills, which uses age-appropriate music and various pieces of equipment, do a great job when it comes to attracting the more active adult. But we need additional programs that appeal to the male demographic that is looking for resistance training.
The best way to begin designing diverse older adult programming is to survey this group to discern their desires, not just their needs. Communicating who the target audience is for each class will increase appeal and participation.
Donna Cyrus, senior vice president of programming at Crunch, New York, praises the programs that offer ongoing education and diverse choreography, which capture the attention of boomers.
As baby boomers continue to age, developing specialized yet diverse programs for specific age segments will be paramount, says fitness consultant and trainer Lawrence Biscontini. Some wellness facilities already provide these services, but given costs and accessibility, clubs could provide a better alternative. Demand for professionals with appropriate training also will increase, and more and more fitness professionals must partner with health professionals, especially if reimbursements are an option.
Activities of daily living also must be a focus, as it is important for our older adults and deconditioned populations to feel a sense of independence, strength, power and control. As purveyors of trainers and instructors, we must focus on stimulating our participants' minds and giving them the ability to socialize as well as a sense of well-being and belonging.
Sara Kooperman, JD, is the CEO of SCW Fitness Education, Les Mills Midwest and the founder and CEO of WATERinMOTION. She is a favorite speaker at many industry conferences and has received numerous awards. Sara also is a licensed attorney, having attended Macalester College, Cambridge University in England, and the Washington University School of Law. A former adjunct faculty member for the Kenneth Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), she is the founder of the MANIA Fitness Instructor Training Conventions, appeared frequently on CNN as a health and fitness expert, is a contributing fitness editor for Oxygen magazine and has been published repeatedly in SHAPE magazine.