What effect would it have on your business if you could convert half of all women aged 50 and over who walked into your facility? Even Curves, with its rapid rise to the top of the franchise world, would be envious. Impossible you say? Or is it an overlooked opportunity? At the end of this column, you decide. Of the more than 108 million women over the age of 20 in the United States, about 22 million belong to a fitness club. That leaves 86 million adult women who are not club members — and 45 million of them are older than 50.

Within the 45 million, 50 percent of postmenopausal women over the age of 50 have the initial stages of osteopenia, and most of them don't even know it.

So what does this have to do with increasing your sales? Think about it. One out of every two of these women should be told to do weight-bearing exercise as part of their prescription to counter their initial bone loss. Unlike regular exercise, strength training is not optional. The reality is that there are more women over 50 years old who should be exercising due to this health issue than there are current female health club members.

To take advantage of this opportunity, club owners should be sure to create specific programming that will make them an attractive option for these older women.

The first step is to establish a need. Work with a screening organization to provide bone density screening and consultation (ensure that results are also sent to your client's physician). Until these potential members have been screened, they are unaware of the issue(s) they may face and the steps needed to address it. The most common avenues of osteoporosis prevention and management are hormone replacement therapy and/or drug interventions for post-menopausal women, nutritional supplementation and weight-bearing exercise. Studies indicate that estrogen plays a critical role in preventing the loss of bone mineral density, with calcium and weight-bearing exercise being important supporting components.

As part of their prescription, these women need to participate in a program that stresses the bones and muscles, increasing bone density and turning back the hands of time.

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American College of Sports Medicine, weight-bearing exercise is a key part of the solution, especially to those in the early stages of osteopenia.

The following ideas can help you create programming that can be implemented for a variety of clients, depending on their stage of osteoporosis:

  • Strength training

    Studies prove bone mass and bone mineral density are maintained or improved through resistance exercise. Changes in bone mass and density are specific to the bones that are bearing the weight (resistance) during training. Programming idea: A Women-on-Weights 10-week strength-training program.

  • Weight-bearing aerobic training

    Studies indicate that some bone density improvement can be gained through aerobic training when compared with inactive controls. The gains are specific to the bones receiving the load and muscular force during the exercise. Programming idea: A low-impact osteofit aerobic class or walking class.

  • Range of motion exercise

    Maintaining and increasing flexibility improves overall mobility and contributes to proper gait and alignment. Stretching should be slow and controlled, avoiding unsupported forward flexion of the spine. Programming idea: A specialized yoga or Pilates class.

  • Fall prevention

    Appropriate forms of weight-bearing exercise include walking, standing and supervised strength training. Programming idea: A program to reduce the potential for falls and minimize the possibility for fractures.

  • Gait training

    Help participants understand the components of a normal gait, i.e. stride length and width, ankle flexion, heel strike, speed and cadence, and upright posture. Programming idea: A four-session gait evaluation and programming package.

  • Balance training

    Incorporate balance activities in classes, but be sure to provide wall, chair or partner support when practicing balance. Programming idea: A balance assessment program to help clients become more stable and reduce the potential for falls.

By taking these initial steps toward addressing bone health, your facility will become a key long-term partner for your members and potential members.

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.