Many who forecast future trends tend to step back, take a hard look at what is happening in their industries and then give their best assumption of what will take place based on the direction the industry, programs and manufacturers are going. This is called crystal balling it.

If you use this approach to forecast what will transpire in 2005, you probably will find your crystal ball a little gray. Why is that? Crystal balling it may have finally caught up with the hard numbers showing that the gray wave (as many call the older adult market) is finally changing the face of fitness. Let's examine the facts, and then you can look into your crystal ball to see how gray it is.

The landscape of the industry has changed and will continue to change in 2005 based on the following trends:

  • According to the numbers from IHRSA, “Among the adult population, there has been a perfect correlation between age and health club membership from 1987-2002; older age groups have reported increased growth rates.” Add to this the fact that “baby-boomers aged 35-54 now account for 12.4 million members or 37 percent of the total health club population. In absolute terms, their numbers have jumped by 143 percent since 1987 as a percentage of the population, and 19 out of every 100 people in this age group are health club members, up from only 9.5 in 1987.”

    IHRSA states that “Over the past 15 years, the defining characteristic of industry change has been the growth in the population of older health club members. In 2002, there were 6.9 million members over the age of 55, still representing an absolute increase of 350 percent over 1987.”

  • Franchise heaven: Another factor driving the mature market is a little club chain named Curves. Have you heard of them? Okay, maybe they are not so small anymore; they dominate the fitness landscape with one out of every four clubs being Curves (a total of 8,500 locations), according to a recent article from the Associated Press. Curves growth just so happens to coincide with the aging of the Baby Boomers, so it should come as no surprise that a market once thought to be a niche market, or a special population, is now the core member of Curves.

    Curves has shown that if you really make the product more accessible, less intimidating and if you meet the time restrictions of the market, then yes, you actually can attract the mature woman demographic.

  • Another area that is blending with the traditional market is the matching of eastern philosophies with western culture. The rise in programs such as Tai Chi and yoga will continue — as will the addition of other mind/body programming from meditation to walking in the outdoors. These programs help the mature population achieve balance.

  • With more than 125 million Americans having some form of chronic health condition, programming that addresses these conditions will continue to blend the medical side of the business into general fitness. We will see more programming based on these health conditions than before, i.e. arthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension, depression.

  • You need look no further than the latest trade show to see the impact that the older adult is having on the industry — recumbent bikes with walk-through design; recumbent steppers now becoming a category; simple-to-use treadmills; strength equipment being designed to address the needs of the deconditioned and also specific health issues such as back pain. If you are not sure about this, take a close look at the next show you go to. This trend will only grow exponentially.

  • Over the past year there have been a growing number of HMOs and insurance providers (whether Blue Cross Blue Shield, Kaiser Permanente or Humana) that have offered incentives to get their client base of mature clients more active. This trend has contributed to the growth of companies such as HealthCare Dimensions, whose programs touch more than 1.35 million health plan members through partnerships with 24 health insurance providers and 600 fitness centers. This trend will continue to grow in 2005 as the battle to keep healthcare costs in line reigns supreme.

  • The final thing to watch for in 2005 is the true meaning of functional fitness. With an aging population seeking fitness to function, we will see more programming designed and based on the individual's level of function than to the masses.

These are only a few of the many ways in which the older adult market is changing the face of the industry. By adopting a more aggressive stance towards the mature population, you will find your business growing older more gracefully and profitably.


Colin Milner is chief executive officer of the International Council on Active Aging. An award-winning writer, Milner has authored more than 100 articles on aging-related issues. He can be reached at colinmilner@icaa.cc.