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As America39s population ages health clubs need to ramp up their facilities training and programming to address the senior market Photo by Thinkstock
<p>As America&#39;s population ages, health clubs need to ramp up their facilities, training and programming to address the senior market. (Photo by Thinkstock.)</p>

Health Club Operators Are Not Prepared to Serve the Growing Senior Market

America is aging, and too many health club operators are losing out on revenue opportunities because they are not providing the appropriate trainers, equipment and programming for this market.

According to online demographics sites, approximately 42 percent of the 320 million people in the United States are 50 years old or older. More significant is the fact that the 50 and older group makes up nearly 55 percent of the adult U.S. population. Clearly, America's population is growing older.

AARP has conducted three studies of businesses, and states that "A majority of businesses are not yet preparing for an older workforce." Other polls indicate that our country is still not ready to cater to the needs, wants, lifestyle habits and physical changes of Americans who are over 50.

The health club industry is in the same boat. A recent look at our major national trade magazines for the past two months illustrates this: 86 percent of ads depicting people exercising featured young, fit bodies. Just take a peek at the average club's group exercise class schedule and you’ll see that nearly 75 percent of class formats are geared to already fit people who are younger than 40.

I studied the past 18 months of business results in the independent club sector of our industry. More than 1,300 clubs responded. Ten percent of club operators reported that their dominant member age grouping was 18-34 while 55 percent answered that their dominant group was 35-49 and the remaining 35 percent said that their dominant age grouping was 50 and older. Examining age statistics and estimating just five years into the future, I calculate that our industry’s dominant member age grouping will be 50 years and older by 2020. Are we prepared to serve them?

The current answer is a resounding "no." Taking care of older populations requires behavior-change skill sets that are not present in the vast majority of employees at today's fitness facilities. Programming that involves less strenuous but effective physical output has barely scratched the surface. The understanding that trainers and instructors have about the complexities of aging are not up to par.

Interestingly, in the same study, I found that the 50- to 59-year-old group retained at a rate more than 3 percent higher than the national average. Members aged 60 and above retained at a rate nearly 7 percent higher than the national average.

However, in terms of ancillary sales, both groups purchased "other services" (training, specialty classes, etc.) at a rate nearly 20 percent below the 35- to 49-year-old group. Although 75 percent of U.S. wealth is distributed among persons 55 years and older, clubs in general are not yet programming appropriately to the needs of the 50-plus group, and it is showing up in lost revenue.

When will we wake up to an aging America? I don’t know. Do you? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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