About nine years ago, we made a big deal about the health club industry entering the new millennium. We talked about the challenges of new technology in our future. Now, the industry faces challenges with and within a new generation.
As any good industry does after being in business for 25 or 30 years, we must look at the changes that occurred in our markets, our culture and the world, and we have to adjust how we communicate and deliver our product to the customers of today. In the first years of our industry, the majority of our market was between 18 and 24 years old. Anything we offered was new and exciting to our members. In the next decade or so, the majority of our members were well into their 30s, wanting beautiful bodies, six-pack abs and defined muscles. Intense, serious workouts left little time for fun and humor at the gym.
Today, Baby Boomers, along with seniors, have started a different fitness concept. They are telling us that fitness is about positive attitudes, self-esteem, a social environment, a mind and spirit fulfillment of health, and a fit body. This market today is — and will continue to be — healthier and more active than previous generations, and they understand the importance of fitness. However, we must be responsible for giving them the programs and classes that address their real lives today.
This market has told us that we need to make fitness fun. More and more research shows that humor that elicits laughter increases lung capacity, boosts mental clarity, promotes healthy digestion and, yes, even tones the abs.
The most successful health clubs today don't just have a few fit 60-year-olds working out with personal trainers. They have large classes with groups of 60- to 90-year-olds who come together regularly to engage in activity, camaraderie and a controlled exercise environment that lets them relax, release inhibitions, become playful (maybe even silly at times) and enjoy a sense of humor, often laughing at themselves.
What do these changes mean to our industry? New studies indicate that daily laughter reduces problems associated with high blood pressure, strokes, arthritis and ulcers. If we don't start including humor in clubs' classes and programs, our members may be forced to tell us that they no longer can afford to associate with us. We'll be bad for their health!
May 4 was World Laughter Day. How many clubs were innovative enough to form a program around that? How many participants would have come to an event that included dancing, singing and activities moving to the beat of tambourines, maracas and shaking pompoms? I'm willing to bet that a majority of your senior members would have come. They would have brought friends, and you would have sold memberships.
One more thought: The Boomers and seniors know they will age because aging is unavoidable. They are willing to embrace it with gusto and humor. Growing old is as distasteful to them as it was to the generations before them, but they have a realistic outlook on the challenges that they will face.
We must continue to educate ourselves on the real world needs and wants of our new generation of members for the next generation of our business. Baby Boomers and seniors have changed the course of our culture and society. It is our responsibility to change the course of action on how we can best serve them by giving them a quality of life that will encompass their whole being — mind, body, spirit and a healthy sense of humor.
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.