The rapid growth in the older adult market over the next few decades is a factor every health and fitness club must consider in their strategic planning.

In 1900, only 4 percent of the population, or 123,000 people, were 65 and older. In the next 30 years, the 50+ group will grow by 74 percent and the under 50 group by 1 percent.

The fitness professionals or program champions are key to success in programming for older adults. Position your program at the forefront with professionals that have knowledge of exercise science with a focus on exercise and aging.

The older adult population is loyal if properly served. Customer service is the best way to market your programs and enhance retention. Communication is the foundation of building good relationships that keep the older adult market coming back. It is estimated that 68 percent of customers quit because of an attitude of indifference to the customer by an employee.

High-quality communication is essential in providing exceptional customer service. The challenge of communicating with other people is that there is no reality, only perception. We all have different perceptions of what we hear and say. In communication, 55 percent is body language, 38 percent is intonation and 7 percent is verbal. A smile is a curved line that can set a lot of things straight. Eye contact indicates your interest in the speaker. Smile and look at your clients. Communicate a genuine interest in building relationships with the older adults in your club. Their loyalty will be second to none.

PROMOTE HEALTH

National health observances can be effectively used to plan programs and promote better health while marketing your club to older adults. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported that older Americans, when supported with reminders of the benefits of exercise increase their adherence to exercise by 80 percent. Promote health through fit facts posted throughout your center and with health promotion activities. You can contact the American Hospital Association in Chicago for a calendar of national health observances. Here are a few ideas:

January

Ring in the New Year. Offer an 8- to 10-week wellness challenge to get people on track with their health and fitness goals. Begin with a pre-assessment. Participants monitor their activity and their food intake throughout the program. Select a holiday spot and make the challenge an imaginary journey — Paris anyone? Base mileage on ACSM guidelines, e.g. aerobic activity three times a week for 20 minutes. Assign mileage to minutes of aerobic activity, strength and flexibility training, attendance to educational seminars, five fruits and vegetables a day, and improvements made by post-assessment time. A map of the journey in a high traffic area will stimulate interest.

February

National heart month. Offer a 2 for 1 healthy heart promotion. One person can be a member or both can be new members. Post statistics about heart healthy practices as fit facts around your center. Contact the American Heart Association to find out what community events you can help them promote.

March

National nutrition month. A great time to offer healthy cooking classes.

May

The last Wednesday in May is national senior health and fitness day. Host a walk and roll in the park. Grandparents walk and grandchildren ride bikes, roller blades or strollers.

Check out the International Concil On Active Aging. at icaa.cc to find out more.

Success with the older adult market is an essential component of your strategic plan now and in the future.

Terry Eckmann is an assistant professor at Minot State University in Minot, ND. She is co-owner of Fitness First Inc. and has produced three older adult exercise videos. Contact Terry at ferebeck@misu.nodak.edu.