Today's senior market comprises more than one quarter of our entire population. The 78 million Baby Boomers want and need our services more than any other market, and from my experience, they are the easiest and most fun people to work with.
I visit clubs, YMCAs, and various types of fitness and wellness facilities on a constant basis to see the latest fitness equipment and talk with employees. While I'm always interested in the latest programs and classes being offered to attract more members into our businesses, I'm even more focused on the members themselves.
During the last decade, my experience with the senior market has taught me more about fitness and how to deliver it than all the technology, research and training programs that have evolved since then. First of all, if you go into any fitness club today and look at all the types of people exercising, you will undoubtedly see the 55-plus members having more fun than anyone else. For example, look at an aquatics class that has a group of aging folks trying to cope with arthritis. They are lifting their legs, swinging their arms and negotiating their noodles with twists and turns continuously for an hour. Most importantly, they are laughing out loud at themselves as well as at each other. Other classes that use balls, bands and weights to work all the major muscles of the participants do a world of good for everyone. The euphoria of the class “complaining” about the workout, bantering with the instructor and socializing with each other works the mind and spirit as much as the body, and, in the end, that will be the deciding factor as to whether or not a person will adopt and stick with a fit and healthy lifestyle.
While we've been emphasizing better eating habits, personal training packages, 30 minutes of cardio workouts daily and strength training three times a week — all excellent and proven fitness programs — we have struggled to get the seniors into our clubs, and we've become even more discouraged when we see many of them leave. Today's seniors know that true fitness is first based on mental health, happiness, sociability and a joy in living. I often refer to it as “fitness from the neck up.” This market has lived longer than most of us. They have raised families, run businesses and overcome hardships while coping with the many physical problems that sometimes come with aging. They know they need to exercise, but they need to enjoy life while doing it.
The healthiest seniors and the most retained members in our clubs are finding ways to laugh — often and loud. Studies have shown that a good belly laugh increases blood flow to the heart, lightens the mood and combats depression, which has become more of a threat than ever before in the aging population.
A positive attitude leads to the joy of movement. The newest cardiovascular exercise is dancing. You may not be able to dance with the stars, but you can certainly feel like you're dancing like the stars. More importantly, at a recent meeting of the American Heart Association in Chicago, researchers reported that dancing the waltz three times a week for eight weeks was just as effective in improving cardiopulmonary function as exercising on a treadmill or bicycle for the same period.
We have a tremendous opportunity to use our industry to better the world. Perhaps we should follow in the footsteps of seniors with decades of wisdom. In order to “make” fun, we must “be” fun and know how to “have” fun. Let's use our expertise to create and market programs that deliver joy in life, in movement, in exercise and in health. Let's become the new leaders of today and tomorrow, and focus on the seniors, just for the fun of it.
Sandy Coffman is president of Programming For Profit, a training and consulting firm in Bradenton, FL. Coffman specializes in customer service, programming and retention. She can be reached at 941-756-6921 or at SLCoffman@aol.com.