OVERLAND PARK, KS -- The first Baby Boomers have now turned 65 years old, marking the beginning of a shift that, according to Department of Health and Human Services statistics, will see the number of older people rise to 19 percent of the United States population over the next 20 years.

Aging Baby Boomers should mean a boom in aging club members. Not only are existing members getting older, but with the market segment increasing so dramatically, it would be shortsighted for facilities to overlook those 65 and older.

Clubs have traditionally catered to a younger population, says Colin Milner, chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA)—and it’s time to change.

For starters, the ways that club owners have typically marketed to older adults must be updated, he says, adding that Silver Sneakers programs, although a good start, may not be as useful with today’s seniors because the goal of those programs for club operators was mainly to fill the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. downtime.

“The challenge to that philosophy is that 76 percent of Baby Boomers anticipate working into their late 70s or early 80s,” Milner says. “So, if you’re building your active aging programs around those hours, you’ll miss a large portion of the market who still works.”

Club owners also must ensure their facilities and equipment are suitable for older adults, Milner says.

“Number one is to make the facilities welcoming to all ages,” he says. “If you’re purchasing equipment that is accessible by older adults, it’s accessible by younger people. But often, if you purchase equipment that is suitable for young athletes, it’s not usable by many older people.”

For instance, Milner points out that the strength equipment—which is
invaluable for helping older people slow, or even reverse, the loss of muscle mass, bone density and strength—is often unsuitable for that population because of the minimum weight increments.

“Between the ages of 35 and 75, you lose 50 percent of your strength and 70 percent of your power,” Milner says. “And by the time they reach the age of 80, 46 percent of the population can’t lift 10 pounds. So if you want to try to attract that much older market, you want to be sure your strength equipment starts well below that.”

Club owners should look for equipment with a step-up on treadmills and ellipticals; a slow starting speed, handrails and an easily accessible stop button on treadmills; highly visible digital displays and instruction labels; and handles and adjustment levers that are easy for arthritic hands to grip.

Those are the sort of considerations Star Trac’s product manager, Jeff Dilts, says his Irvine, CA-based company tries to incorporate into its line of products.

“We offer several features within our product lines that cater to the older client and in some cases assist the disabled client with use,” Dilts says.
Those features include step-through access and retractable armrests on recumbent bikes, telescoping contact heart-rate grip and reading racks, rear step-up access to elliptical trainers and grip-friendly handrails on all treadmills.

There is no U.S. standard for fitness equipment design for the older population, but the requirements specified by the United Kingdom’s Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI) could provide a starting point. In fact, several suppliers well known in the United States, including Life Fitness, Precor, SciFit, HUR, Octane Fitness and Matrix Fitness, already make IFI-compliant equipment.

Bob Quast, vice president of brand management at Life Fitness, Lake Forest, IL, says the company makes four products that meet the IFI standards. Although these specific products aren’t yet available in the United States, Quast says the company considers older and less-able users in the design of all its products.

“We’ve lowered the starting speed on our treadmills to 0.3 miles per hour, and the FlexDeck built into our treadmills reduces impact up to 30 percent,” Quast says. “Our cardio products, except for the treadmill, are self-powered, but we offer a plug-in option that starts them at a very low rpm. We also have a step-through option on our Elevation recumbent bike, which features larger, bright yellow levers so people can easily adjust the seat and a pull-down armrest option.”

Quast says Life Fitness’ 12-piece Circuit Series strength line was designed with the older market in mind.

“It’s a collection of low-profile pieces that use bands to provide resistance,” he says. “The starting resistance is only 5 pounds, and the ease on and off the product is tailored towards older people.”

Tim Porth, Octane’s executive vice president of product development and marketing, says the elliptical manufacturer also keeps seniors in mind. In addition to the company’s IFI-compliant Pro3700 model, Octane, Brooklyn Park, MN, also has created the first seated elliptical, the xRide.

While developing the xRide, Octane worked with a local retirement community to solicit feedback from both healthy and disabled seniors, but Porth says the company considers the needs of all users when creating its equipment.

“When we design our products, we carefully consider how they can provide the best workouts to everyone, from someone who has a disability to an elite athlete,” Porth says. “We are constantly innovating to incorporate features that maximize comfort, enhance safety, optimize accessibility and deliver effective exercise to all individuals.”