As millions of Baby Boomers near retirement age, many are focusing on their health for more active aging. Moving forward, savvy club operators should offer a good mix of programming to appeal to an older crowd without alienating younger members in the process.

The staff at the Parkwood YMCA in Lansing, MI, has achieved this delicate balance. A well-designed programming schedule with targeted classes for older adults helps that facility serve members of all ages, says Molly Smith, health and wellness director for the Parkwood YMCA. The Y currently has about 1,200 older adult members in its fitness program.

The key is attention to scheduling, Smith says. Retirees, for instance, are free to attend classes during the afternoon while younger adults are still at work.

“It's easy to cater to both populations as long as you have good program management skills,” Smith says. “We have a couple of hours in the morning that we set aside for senior classes and times during the day for younger classes. On our schedule, we also set [difficulty] levels so people can immediately see what they're signing up for and know they'll be comfortable.”

In addition, the Y offers an Active Older Adults program for seniors in which they work out at the facility several days a week for seven to 12 weeks.

If a club isn't actively courting an older client base, it could be missing the boat in terms of membership revenue, says Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging.

“With Baby Boomers, this group has money to stick with you as a member, and their health is important to them,” Milner says. “But 88 to 90 percent of Baby Boomers surveyed in a Natural Marketing Institute study said they were dissatisfied with their fitness regimens. We need to ask, ‘How do we serve you better?' We're talking about the largest population in terms of growth with the most amount of dollars.”

Although many fitness facility operators would like to serve this lucrative demographic, some of them don't quite know how, but it can be done, says Janie Clark, president of the American Senior Fitness Association.

“You need to be smart about it, but there's no reason you can't serve a very large population,” she says. “You don't need to have one club for the older set and one club for the younger set.”

Creating targeted programs also helps the Parkwood Y successfully serve its older member base. The Y hosts a Silver Sneakers series and an enhanced fitness course in conjunction with the local department of community health. For that, members of the Parkwood staff go out into the community to offer tailored programs, such as chair-based fitness classes, for seniors with limited mobility who are unable to visit the Y in person.

“We serve a variety of seniors, from people who are mobile, to seniors with disabilities,” Smith says.

A recent study by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that people now entering their 60s have a greater incidence of disabilities than people in their 70s and 80s. The study found that people entering their 60s are more likely to suffer from arthritis, dementia, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis.

“Our results have significant and sobering implications: Older Americans face increased disability, and society faces increased costs to meet the health care needs of these disabled Americans,” wrote Teresa Seeman, principal study author and UCLA professor of medicine and epidemiology.

A joint study published by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association (AHA) also found that older Americans are the least physically active of any age group and generate the highest medical expenditures.

These are several of the reasons why fitness programming for older adults was named one of the top 10 trends for 2010 by ACSM.