The medical industry is telling us that within the next five to 10 years, depression will become the No. 2 killer in the world. Depression comes from loneliness, low self-esteem, stress, worry, a general feeling of hopelessness and unhappiness, and dealing with physical limitations.
We can't solve all the world's problems, but the fitness industry can do a great deal to combat this epidemic by sending a louder, clearer, more dedicated message to the market that is most at risk — people 55 and older. Club owners must create an environment that delivers the entire package of fitness, emphasizing healthy minds and spirits as well as bodies.
Just look at the most successful and profitable facilities today, and you will probably see that the 55-and-older market is at least 20 percent of the total membership. They visit the club three or more times a week and consider it part of their life, not just their lifestyle. Half of the membership of some clubs, such as Lifestyle Family Fitness in Sarasota, FL, and Venice, FL, are Baby Boomers and older.
What makes some clubs more successful than others? Why are some clubs busier and more fun to visit than others? How can we get more clubs to attract more seniors?
First of all, owners of successful clubs have done their homework. They know that younger people are more interested in appearance while older people are more interested in quality of life. That means they want attention from you and focus on them. They need to be recognized and talked to when they enter your facility. Your staff must make them feel special from the minute they walk in. They are the “me” generation, and professional customer service will dictate if, when and how often they will exercise in your facility. They want expertise, but they expect service to go with it, and they are willing to pay for it. Their emotional, psychological and sociological experience will determine the value of their visit.
Second, successful club owners have learned to loosen up. In active, successful clubs that have attracted the 55-and-older market, you will see the members greeting each other and carrying on lively conversations while they work out. The Annals of Behavioral Medicine recently reported that older adults like to exercise with others like themselves. Most seniors in busy, successful clubs will be quick to say how nice it is to have people their age working out with them. Smart club owners train a staff to help their members create that kind of environment. Learn how to give a laugh, get a laugh and share a laugh. A social atmosphere creates a friendly environment and a healthy outlook on life. That is sure to result in a more effective workout.
Third, focus on the whole package of health and all aspects of exercising. Offer programs that focus on cardiovascular exercises, strength training, flexibility and balance. Successful clubs know how to offer 20- to 30-minute sessions that focus on each type of exercise. You will find that older members will stay, on average, two hours at your club without feeling as though they have overdone any one type of exercise, yet they feel they have enjoyed a full workout. Most successful clubs that court the senior market will also offer a social opportunity, such as a place to enjoy a cup of coffee or a juice with their fellow members.
As of 2005, Baby Boomers numbered 78.2 million in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The sheer number of Boomers means they dictate trends, and if they embrace your facility, they can turn it into a success story. If you focus on seniors well, your club, your programs and your expertise can help reduce the signs and symptoms of many chronic health conditions, including depression.
Sandy Coffman is president of Programming For Profit in Bradenton, FL, and author of “Successful Programs for Fitness and Health Clubs: 101 Profitable Ideas.” She can be reached at 941-756-6921 or at SLCoffman@aol.com.