Our industry has an opportunity and responsibility to create and implement programs for people of all ages. However, people fall into niches as they age, and the programs that we offer must always be unique and professionally designed to ensure enjoyment of exercise, compliance, growth and retention. It takes a professional to put together professional programs that will generate professional results.

By the time people reach the senior population niche, they become more diversified. Their abilities, in addition to the nuances of aging, can be categorized into niches of functional ability. Traditionally, they are defined as physically frail and dependent to physically fit and physically elite.

We all know that it is never too late to get fit. Instead of avoiding exercise because of diabetes or arthritis (as advised in the past), seniors are now told to get even more exercise daily and consistently.

The majority of aging adults experience a gradual decline in their ability to execute basic activities of daily living, such as walking, dressing, lifting groceries (or grandchildren), or enjoying simple recreational activities. These age-related difficulties arise from sedentary living or lack of activity and result in general aches and pains combined with loneliness, lack of leadership and a general feeling of depression. They affect the majority of seniors today, and our programs must address those issues first to affect the overall quality of life that our fitness programs can provide.

The physically fit and elite seniors have been exercising for most of their lives. They are healthy, more fit, and have more energy and a more positive outlook than people half their age. It’s fun to welcome them into our programs and tout their achievements. They make us look good, too. They are using our clubs, wellness centers and fitness facilities, and we are taking credit for keeping them fit.

But as true professionals in the industry, we must embrace the biggest problem with the aging market today—lack of activity. Herein lies our best opportunity and most important responsibility. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that less than half of the aging population gets enough exercise, and three out of five seniors get less exercise than they need.

Let’s begin with our own exercise on awareness and empathy. As people age, tasks that were relatively easy in our younger years become more difficult. Normal challenges include moving quickly or changing directions, getting onto and off the floor, moving in full ranges of motion, gripping objects and weights, and using positions involving core strength or movements, joint stability and balance. Many seniors have a constant fear of falling.

If you are aware of these challenges, then you must buy into the professional programming techniques that will address them. By professional programming techniques, I don’t mean the technical aspects of individual exercises. Most instructors are trained with the knowledge necessary to provide these technical aspects, and many of them have access to state-of-the-art equipment that enables them to put together a menu of exercises that will improve all of the above points of concern.

However, we must package those exercises in programs that provide staying power. I have always maintained that fitness must begin from the neck up. Enjoyment, confidence, respect, self-esteem, self-awareness, a sense of belonging and a feeling of acceptance will result in a positive attitude and self worth.

Evaluation Process Checklist

-Is your program creatively designed using group formations, props and music that is specifically relative to the member?

-Does your program include exercises that encourage participants to interact verbally as well as physically during the routines?

-Does your exercise program include an education segment that is woven into the physical aspects of the activities? Does it have exercises in vocabulary and terminology?

-Does your exercise program include strength training, cardiovascular conditioning and balance routines without making them job-related performances?

-Does your instructor have leadership skills, including the ability to be innovative and uninhibited?

-Does you program provide recognition to individuals as well as to the whole class?

-Does your program result in your participants doing more than they thought they could do?

-Fitness affects children of all ages. Does your program bring out the child in everyone?

Creating the Perfect Program and Making It Fun

-Offer a one-time free introductory class that will demonstrate what the ongoing program will offer.

-Include a “personal invitation” in your marketing. Be sure to indicate that the participants will be with other people like themselves (similar ages, skill levels or amount of experience, etc.) You want to assure them that they will not be intimidated.

-The introduction program should have a party atmosphere. That is doable given that it is a one-time event.

-Use everyday movements and activities. In addition to fitness equipment, use everyday props such as books, towels, balls, etc.

-Use chairs in a group formation to create balance, a feeling of security and good posture. The whole session does not need to be on chairs, but being able to come back “home” and feel comfortable every now and then is a good thing.

-Include interaction with the instructor, but be sure to create a social environment that creates camaraderie among the participants as well. Forming relationships within the group is a must.

-Be sure to give recognition to everyone at some point in the class.

-Follow up with every person who attended the introductory class. You will be sure to create the ongoing program as a result.

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.