Older Americans Are Changing Fitness Landscape


HARTSDALE, NY – An older population has moved into health clubs and that is affecting equipment and program popularity, according to the 18th annual Superstudy® of Sports Participation.

Twenty-five percent of the 41.3 million health club members in the United States are 55 years old and older, found the study, which was conducted among 14,684 Americans nationwide in January 2005 by American Sports Data Inc. (ASD). From 1998 - 2004, the number of frequent fitness participants aged 55 and older increased by 33 percent compared with a growth rate of 13 percent for Baby Boomers aged 35-54, and zero growth for the “traditional” fitness participant aged 18-34.

The growing number of older club members “represents not only a vast change in American attitudes and perceptions, but also an imminent restructuring of the health club and fitness industries, and most crucially, the seed of monumental healthcare reform in the United States,” said ASD President Harvey Lauer. “The growth of senior fitness is the unifying theme that explains many of the changes we are seeing on the ground.”

Those changes include the fact that the fastest-growing fitness activities in the country are of the kinder-and-gentler variety. Pilates has grown from just 1.7 million participants in 2000, to 10.5 million in 2004—a 506 percent increase. The average age of Pilates participants has decreased from 43.6 years old in 2000 to 33.7 years old in 2004. With an average age of 38.5, elliptical motion trainer exercise now claims 15.7 million fitness participants, an increase of 306 percent since 1998. After treadmill exercise and stationary cycling, this knee-friendly equipment is the third most popular form of cardio equipment exercise.

With participants averaging 38.2 years of age, the compound measurement of yoga/Tai Chi has grown by 118 percent during 1998-2004. At 11.2 million participants, recumbent cycling, a particularly back-friendly exercise for older Americans, has grown 66 percent from 1998-2004. With an average age of 42.6, recumbent cycling is the third “oldest” fitness activity, surpassed in participant age only by fitness walking and aquatics. Usage of hand weights and dumbbells, still other examples of less taxing senior-friendly fitness, has increased by 29 percent and 34 percent, respectively, compared with a rise of only 13 percent in more strenuous barbell lifting. People aged 55 plus also constitute 25 percent of the 6.1 million Americans who paid for the services of a personal trainer in 2004. Mature exercise enthusiasts also are causing YMCA/YWCA memberships to increase along with those at “other” facilities, the study classification that includes express workout facilities. People over 55 comprise 35 percent of all memberships in "other" fitness facilities.

For the first time since the inception of the research in 1988, average health club dues have dropped from $36.85 per month in 2003 to $33.90 in 2004: an 8 percent reversal but natural aftershock of the graying fitness revolution, Lauer said.

Visit the April 2005 news archive for more news stories.

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