Ronald Reagan's death from Alzheimer's disease made headlines around the world in 2004. But for millions of older adults who suffer from Alzheimer's and dementia, that year was just a blur, a blank memory, a time that never existed.

The thought of these diseases tends to send chills down the spine of many of us who fear losing our memory as we get older. For many it may start with a little thing such as trying to recall where we put our keys or the name for something. These memory lapses are normal, especially the more hurried our lives become, but for many they represent the start of a downward spiral that will continue for years to come.

You may be asking yourself the question: what does this have to do with me — a fitness and wellness professional? The answer: everything.

Today, members are seeking solutions to a variety of health issues from obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes to more complex issues such as depression and memory loss. By offering programming that addresses these issues, you let your members know you are more than just a gym and care about their well being.

To help reduce the effect of these memory losses and to stave off these diseases we must challenge our members' minds constantly. The phrase “use it or lose it” applies not only to our bodies but also to our minds. A report in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that even just participating in ordinary tasks such as reading, listening to the radio and playing games such as checkers and cards on a daily basis may keep these memory-robbing illnesses at bay.

To challenge the ability of your members' minds to learn and process information quickly while exploring new topic areas that require judgment and decision-making, use the following tools and tips:

  • Book-of-the-month club

    Schedule a book-of-the-month club meeting in your aerobic studio or office during your facility's down time. Invite members and non-members to meet monthly to discuss a book that they've all read. Volunteers can lead these sessions, which help keep seniors' minds active while giving them the opportunity to socialize with others.

  • Question and answer

    Have your personal trainers challenge your older clients' memories with fun fit tips and questions and answers. Examples of these could be:What muscle is this exercise working? What is an activity that you do everyday that requires you to use this muscle? How do you set up and use this piece of equipment?

    These may seem like elementary questions; however, they will not only let you know if your older client is paying attention, but they will also let you know if they are able to recall the information.

  • Mind games

    Place a health or fitness crossword puzzle in your monthly newsletter and offer prizes to the participants.

  • Educational lectures

    These monthly sessions will enable members to learn new things and have new experiences.

  • Getting connected

    What better way to keep the mind working and get people connected than offering computer labs at your center? Work with a local computer store to supply computers and recruit teenagers from local schools to mentor your older members.

  • Travel fare

    Work with your local travel agent to offer trips to other countries. Prior to the trip, have language classes available.

  • Debate club

    Create a debate club where older adults can chat and debate with others who share similar or opposing points of view.

  • Art class

    Offer art classes to stimulate creativity and memory recall.

  • Autobiography club

    This is a book-writing club where an older adult can create the story of his or her life for future generations to read and learn.

Other programming ideas for seniors include:

  • Social outings such as movies

  • Volunteering and fundraising

  • Meditation

  • Becoming an ambassador at local community events

  • Participating in intergenerational groups with outside community

  • Participating in murder mystery games with clues of the week

  • Collaborative problem solving

  • Interactive theater

  • Poetry writing

  • Time capsule with “Who I Am” theme

  • Humor workshops

  • Support groups and events

The old saying “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” is true. By offering these services, you can help ensure that your members keep their minds as active and as fit as their bodies.


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.