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Clubs need to have programs for older generation

Maureen Hagan presented a session during the IHRSA convention on catering to the older generation.Try these numbers on for size: every day for the next 17 years, 10,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65; the senior population will double, with the 85 and older segment the fastest growing part of the elderly population. 

So, what does that mean and why does the fitness industry need to know this? 

The next set of numbers may answer those questions for you. According to IHRSA, the number of health club members who are 55 years and older grew 343% from 1987 to 2003, compared to 180% for ages 35-54. 

Figure it out yet? 

The fitness industry certainly needs to be aware of the opportunity and responsibility in front of them, which is being cognizant of the needs for older populations, as well as knowing how to provide those needs. 

Maureen Hagan, vice president of Operations for GoodLife Fitness in Canada, spoke on this subject during an education session at last month’s IHRSA International Convention & Trade Show with, Booming Opportunities – Catering to the Needs of Older Adults. 

She explained how her having a bit of each of her Six Dimensions of Wellness – social, intellectual, spiritual, physical, occupational and emotional - are vital to a well-rounded and successful program. 

“Unless we choose to leave this field or we retire, our job (working with this part of the population) will grow, said Hagan during her session. “There is going to be a shift and (the fitness industry) is going to play a significant role in this shift, a shift to wellness.”  

Hagan explained in her Tuesday session that fulfilling the needs of the Baby Boomers can be more than offering a few of the typical classes. For example, for the social aspect dancing can be as beneficial as a TRX or Zumba class. The environmental piece of the pie could be working in gardens or participating in a favorite hobby. 

“Those clubs that do not offer something (for this population) will be left behind,” Hagan said at the end of her talk.  

But what is the best way to go about it? For many Baby Boomers, and even older adults, venturing into a club or attending a fitness class can be intimidating and uncomfortable. 

Hagan, as well as Shana Martin, Fitness director at Supreme Health and Fitness in Madison, Wisc., have heard from older adults who either didn’t want to work out with 20- and 30-year-olds, or weren’t comfortable with them leading their class. At the same time there are some in the same age group who do not want to be isolated with only those their age. 

“Older adults want to be comfortable, but the majority do not want to be looked as older,” said Hagan during a phone interview this week. “When asked why they prefer to work out in a group with younger members they say it is because it inspires me, reminders me of when I was younger and it encourages me. It makes them feel good and reminds them how it was to be in their 30s and 40s.” 

They need to feel comfortable with the instructors, too. A young, 20-something instructor who is dressed in bra top with their mid-sections showing will often make a senior member feel uneasy about their own bodies. Hagan says for those reasons GoodLife has instructors’ dress codes and suggests others do the same. 

Martin’s club started Flexible Fitness out of demand from the older members of Supreme. They said that some instructors toned down part of their classes but working out next to tone and buff younger members was not what they were looking for when they joined. 

The class – offered to members and non-members alike - is extremely popular and a chance for new friends to chat and discuss what is interesting and important to them while working on balance, mobility and strength, at their own pace. 

Attendees of Maureen Hagan's education session.“Baby Boomers are hearing it more and more from their doctors and the media that exercise is essential. They are going to go where they are comfortable and can be social. I can’t say enough how important the social aspect is.” 

Hagan added that making new older adult members – really, any new member – feel at ease is vital to their physical and mental success, as well as the club’s. At GoodLife, instructors make sure to introduce themselves to a new face, both one-on-one and pointing out new participants during the class. 

“Stats show camaraderie is a reason for someone to come back. It only takes three visits in the first month for a sense of belonging. Members are more apt to stay if they have friends, and feel like part of a community, in the club,” Hagan said. “In the Boomer years, people are more focused on lifestyle, spending more time on themselves and their hobbies.  

“Our job is to help them find their way, as fitness professionals.”

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