Marketing and programming for seniors must appeal to different ages, interests and abilities, but we must remember to define the similarities of this population and understand what attracts and keeps them in our clubs.

It's easy to program to the physically elite seniors (20 percent), and we have specific programs for the frail, physically limited or injured seniors (20 percent), but we need to focus on the majority of the population (60 percent) who will respond to programs that promote active aging. These programs should help eliminate loneliness, depression, apprehension and possible pain. They should encourage friendship, playfulness, laughter, spontaneity, games and recreational activities.

How do we do this? Let's look at the successes in our industry today and spend our time and energy on expanding and enhancing those successes.

The Silver Sneakers program is growing in nearly every club that offers it. You not only will see many ages in the classes, but you also will see several men in them as well. The program is a true example of creating a club within a club. Classes are marketed to the senior population and have some restrictions, but 2.5 million people in this country are eligible, and the exclusivity of the class seems to foster a connective feeling of immediate friendship and camaraderie. Unlike clubs that buy sophisticated equipment to attract and appease the older market, the Silver Sneakers program uses chairs, balls, bands and other props to create fun, doable exercise routines that everyone can relate to and enjoy.

Les Mills International and Body Training Systems are also licensed and trademarked programs available to you. Both organizations have recently developed their newest programs for this diverse senior population. They realized that we needed a product for this market that delivered more than physical benefits. It is refreshing to see at conventions how many instructors are taking the demonstration classes from these two organizations in order to become more educated on the market and more familiar with the choreography.

Club owners, managers, trainers, instructors and program directors should consider basic points when putting together a program for seniors:

  • Find a leader who will be the catalyst for the success of the program. The leader must be a role model to members and staff, demonstrating energy and enthusiasm as he or she encourages participants to do more than they thought they could.

  • Offer a variety of moves and exercises. Be sure to include strength and cardiovascular training, balance techniques, and flexibility and stretching. Employ creative use of props to keep things interesting.

  • Give recognition to individuals as well as to the class as a whole. You want to raise self-esteem and make everyone feel important, but the idea of creating the club-within-a-club environment is essential. Relationship building will be key to retention.

  • Encourage the class to interact verbally. This can be done with the teacher or with each other. Counting, singing and calling out answers to questions are great ideas.

  • Add educational material to your conversation within the class.

  • Choose music that is specific to your audience. Although a good beat and a happy tune are effective, familiar lyrics will immediately bring the group together if you encourage a sing-a-long to the repetitions.

Use the class as a marketing tool. People who have fun will usually want to bring in their friends. Fun and fitness equals growth and retention.

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.