As our industry and the medical industry continue to expand on the most beneficial frequency, intensity and duration of exercise, it has become clear that the key to success lies in the social connection involving fitness. I call it the people connection.

A well-educated and personable leader is always key to the success of a well-rounded fitness agenda. He or she will be the social catalyst to provide fun, camaraderie and recognition for achievement during an hour of exercise. It all comes down to enthusiastic, dedicated, knowledgeable leaders who create environments that make people want to participate and keep coming back.

I've been preaching this message for years, and I personally experienced the success and the joy of being a leader to the aging market. I focused my attention on creating a social, fun, upbeat, happy experience for my participants. I found that my leadership and social skills actually got everyone to work harder, enjoy it all and come back for more. My objective was to help all participants grow in their own six dimensions of wellness — physiological, emotional, sociological, vocational, spiritual and intellectual — and it worked. I'm proud to say that many great leaders have experienced the same joy in bringing a life of fitness and wellness to the aging market.

I thought I knew it all, but I recently had an epiphany as I rehabilitated from a total knee replacement. I knew that at age 66, the most important part of the procedure was being fit beforehand and keeping with a good rehab routine afterwards. After regular workouts at the club, I was physically prepared to undergo the surgery and begin an aggressive rehab schedule that I hoped would get me close to normal in a short amount of time. After the surgery, I was home from the hospital in just three days. Then I began a home therapy program with a visiting physical therapist for an additional two weeks.

During my therapy, I knew what to do, how to do it and how often to do it. As someone who works in the fitness industry, I thought I was motivated enough to exercise that leg by myself. I really didn't need any other direction. As driven as I thought I was, I found the daily routine of exercising by myself through pain to be depressing.

The home visits by the therapist were not only beneficial, but they also gave me a real lift in spirit as well. I actually looked forward to his visits. Although every repetition and set was a strain, the therapist kept telling me how well I was doing and how impressed he was with my progress. Each time, he had a little anecdote to share regarding other patients and other surgeries. He made the exercises seem easier, almost fun. His smile was contagious, and I couldn't wait to show him my improvement with each visit. His recognition and praise of my performance was exhilarating.

At my first post-op visit, I was delighted when the doctor told me I was way ahead of schedule and ready for more aggressive outside therapy. My new therapist was extremely responsive to my goals. He introduced me to other patients with similar situations and goals and created a happy atmosphere in a clinical environment. The experience was actually exciting, as I continued to regain the use of my leg without pain.

What I learned is that what we do as leaders makes a difference in the quality of life of our older adult patrons, both now and in the remaining one-third of their lives.

I told the doctor I would like to get back on the tennis court, the golf course, my bike and be able to wear stilettos. Oh, well, I'll settle for three out of four.

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.