In a vast market of potential members, where only 14% of the US population is currently served by health and fitness facilities, owners and operators have yet to capitalize on capturing the baby boomer and senior segment. The attractiveness of millennials can color the lenses of many facility operators. This summary explains the revenue potential of appealing to the baby boomer population. How can facilities attract this segment group, develop programming to meet their needs and expectations, and increase retention through promoting a fitness lifestyle for aging boomers and seniors?
The following is a summarization of an education session from the 2016 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at ihrsastore.com.
About the Speaker
Dori Nugent, Group Fitness Director, Club La Maison
Why We Shouldn't Forget About Baby Boomers
Unfortunately, few facilities focus on the baby boomer and senior markets. Most facility operators tend to direct the greater share of their marketing efforts towards younger population groups – 20s, 30s, and 40s – connecting members, building social media, and creating a tribal sense of community.
Yet, aging baby boomers are one of the fastest growing member groups. Baby boomers represent 29 percent or about one third of the American population and are the wealthiest population group. There are 75 million aging boomers, 50 – 70 years of age. 35 percent of baby boomers exercise.
As the wealthiest group, baby boomers can not only afford health club memberships, but they also have the time to fill those off-peak hours. Research studies show that the older the member, the longer they stay. Baby boomers and seniors are very loyal and can help increase a facilitiy's retention rate.
What are Baby Boomer Members Looking for?
Baby boomers as a group have more distinguishable needs than those members in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Keeping their independence is one of their top lifestyle priorities. They also look for:
- Prevention – They realize they’re entering the second phase of their lives. They see a need to prepare for this second half. They’re looking to prevent falls, memory issues, and declining health and quality of life.
- Control – They seek control over their lives. They’re trying to manage high blood pressure, arthritis, and other health issues or disease.
- Reversal – They wish to slow down the effects of aging. Perhaps they’ve had a knee or hip replacement. Maintaining mobility, flexibility, and balance are important. They want to continue to enjoy time with their grandchildren, doing their hobbies, and playing golf or tennis.
- Independence – They want to continue to have the independence they’ve enjoyed up to this point in their lives. They desire their freedom and their ability to live independently. Often, “empty nesters” or perhaps widowed, they want to remain social and to have connections with others.
Evaluating the specific needs of boomers and seniors will help you as a facility operator or program manager to design and develop programs that address their needs and expectations. Fitness programs should focus on helping them to continue to engage in the activities they enjoy and have become accustomed to throughout their lives.
Where Can You Find Baby Boomers Members?
Full service health clubs which offer a breadth of activities can typically attract a larger number of baby boomers. Less so for boutiques studios, but this can be offset with niche programs deftly marketed.
Third party providers of specialty programs are a potential recruitment tool. Programs such as SilverSneakers, Silver and Fit, or Healthy Way offer programming and may prove economical.
Explore public relations and marketing opportunities with AARP or the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA). Connect with senior centers or residential living communities. Give a presentation or talk at a local senior center. Offer special promotions to introduce them to your facility.
Network with physicians’ offices and physical therapists. Build trust and relationships with these professionals to establish a referral system.
How Can Clubs Support Baby Boomers?
The number one leading cause of injury to aging boomers and seniors is falls. One third of seniors fall, often injuring their head, hip, or wrist. The reason this segment group often falls is due to decreased lower body strength. Likewise, ankle flexion and extension is helpful to maintain a good walking stride.
Develop aspects of any fitness programming that offer support in decreasing risk of falls. Work with their fear of falling. Baby boomers and seniors are acutely aware of the potential to fall and constantly hear it from caring family members.
Incorporate exercises that help support their daily activities or physical interests, whether they love to garden, go shopping, or babysit grand kids. Ensure the exercises in any program help improve and maintain mobility, strength, and endurance – all critical to their fitness lifestyle.
A baby boomer or senior fitness program should encompass more than the physical aspect of fitness; it should also address mental fitness. When both the physical and mental elements come together it creates enormous fitness lifestyle benefits for this segment group.
As with most people, boomers need help managing stress. They experience stress differently than a younger member who may stress over work, their commute, or school age children and infants. Boomers stress over insurance, medications, doctor appointments, and if they’ll have enough money to last through retirement.
For those in retirement, consider the changes this poses to their daily activity. Of course, they’ve earned the pleasure to take it easy! But, they do tend to experience less routine in their lives. They no longer regularly use the type of thinking processes as they did to keep up with the pressures and grind of work. The downside is that the mind begins to slow. They may also feel some depression and isolation.
Fitness programs should include aspects to improve mood, memory, and brain power.
Group Fitness for an Aging Fitness Lifestyle
Group fitness directors and managers will need to shift their thinking to understand that the cardiovascular component of exercise for aging boomers is important, but not as important when instructing 25 – 45 year olds. Of course, a fitness program needs to have movement to increase heart rate to a moderate and sometimes vigorous level. However, it’s much less about HIIT and more about incorporating mental agility into aerobic endurance and strength components of a physical workout.
You’ll want your faciliy's aging boomer or senior program to encompass both group exercise and personal training. In either, make sure to integrate game play and coordination sequences.
Baby boomers grew up playing games… and no, not on mobile devices. A game like Rock, Paper, Scissors offers elements of physical coordination. Game play is fun and improves their mood. Simon Says is another game that gets them thinking and laughing. Sequence patterns such as line dancing promotes thinking about movement and coordination.
Partner up members in workout activities to promote a social aspect. Remember, they desire socialization. This group, as they age, will lose the sense of touch. This is very common among those who are widowed. A sense of touch is critical in gaining loyalty from this group. When they come to class, if your trainers or instructors are comfortable with this – touch them. Hold their hand or place a hand on their back or shoulder and tell them, “It’s going to be a great class today.”
Key Elements of a Baby Boomer Fitness Program
When designing a program for this segment group make sure it has each of the five fitness components. Each are equally important to a healthy fitness lifestyle. Balance and flexibility often decrease with age. Balance will help reduce falls, while flexibility maintains continuity and enjoyment of an active lifestyle.
Five Fitness Components
- Aerobic Fitness
- Dance-based activities
- Walking clubs
- Cardio equipment
- Physical games
- Muscular Fitness
- Free weights
- Resistance Bands
- Body weight exercise
- Flexibility – this can be incorporated with aerobic and muscular fitness.
- Tai chi
- Core exercise
- Barre classes
- Isolation of right and left sides
- Tai chi
- Breathing exercises
- Post workout recovery
Recommended Weekly Allowance – A Fitness Prescription
Provide ample class programming to support the recommended weekly allowance of exercise. Your club’s weekly programing should offer aerobic and muscular strength classes or personal training sessions three times per week. Relaxation, balance, and flexibility activities should be offered five times per week. These last three fitness components are easily incorporated into aerobic and muscular strength classes.
Use the recommended weekly allowance to make a fitness prescription plan. Unlike millennials who know what to do in the gym, baby boomers or seniors do not necessarily have the knowledge or may not feel comfortable. Millennials engage more actively in exercise trends. They’ll have a movement of the day for when they come to the club, or they may follow celebrity trainers on Instagram or YouTube. Millennials have this at their disposal through their mobile devices.
Aging boomers or seniors are not accustomed to this. So, it’s even more important for personal trainers to work closely with this group. Help them to understand the different gym equipment and its uses and benefits. Trainers must understand the specific fitness needs of aging boomers and how best to address those in a fitness prescription plan. Establish a close connection with senior members to make sure they hit the recommended weekly allowance of the five fitness components.
Modifications are an important aspect in working with baby boomers. Both group instructors and trainers need to understand how to modify an exercise to accommodate their level of ability.
The range in ability levels of aging boomers and seniors varies widely. Two members of the same age can differ in endurance, mobility and flexibility. While one member may be strong and an avid golfer, the other may demonstrate signs of fragility, e.g. lack of strength and mobility.
Through modification instructors and trainers can better accommodate fitness level abilities of this participant group within the class setting or during PT sessions. In group classes, for example, place a chair in the room for those who may need a modification to a balance exercise. An instructor can pause before beginning the balance work to let participants know there is a chair in the room should someone need it. Suggest instead of pushups on the floor doing a pushup against the wall.
Modifications equal success by ensuring a quality workout experience. Create a fun environment and demonstrate progress, and baby boomers will become your most loyal members who will generate facility revenue and increase retention rates.
Relevancy Equals Experience
Keep programs relevant to baby boomers’ social norms and culture, but remember they want to feel young. If you’re not sure of what they want or their interests, ask them.
Experience is a large part of the benefit of a fitness lifestyle program for aging boomers and seniors. Keep group classes, personal training, and specialty programs entertaining and social. Make the class format inclusive.
Cueing needs to be relevant to their world. For example, if performing an overhead squat, modify the cueing to squatting down to pick up a grandchild and lifting them up. They want to know why they are doing the exercise. Calf raises reinforce balance for the ability to reach up and grab something in a cupboard or on a grocery store shelf. They need to understand the importance of the exercise relative to their daily activities. It’s all about functional exercise.
Music is another element that needs to be relevant for them. They love to sing along.
Revenue Generating Ideas
Though the wealthiest population with available time, it is important to build trust with baby boomers and seniors to enable selling opportunities. If you have their trust, they will follow your recommendations and suggestions.
Key to consider when marketing and promoting to this segment group are the images and language you use. It’s critical that the way you speak and the visual appeal relates to them. Find photos and illustrations that resemble them and that mirror their activities and their values. Language on flyers, internal boards, emails, etc. should highlight functional fitness and its benefits. Emphasize results: extending their ability to continue the activities they enjoy such as golf or tennis, helping prevent or control health issues, and further reinforcing their independence and lifestyle. The physical appearance of fit bodies is not as important.
The baby boomer-senior segment group is ideally suited to fill your club’s off-peak time. Typically, they come to the club from noon to 3:00 pm in the afternoon, which fills a void in their day. Use rooms or spaces available during the afternoon to activate fee-based programs or specialty groups.
Fee-Based Activities and Training
Barre classes are very popular among this group, because it makes them feel young and relevant. They’re aware of current trends, and by inclusion supports an active fitness lifestyle. The club benefits from member loyalty by promoting a youthful user experience. This is an ideal opportunity for any boutique studio or club offering barre classes.
Tennis is a popular activity among baby boomers. If your club has the facilities, create a baby boomer or senior league. Host a one-day tournament for seniors age 55 and over. Dedicate an afternoon weekly for “Silver Racquet” matches with hospitality and prizes for this member group.
Offer specialized small group training such as an 8- or 12-week tai chi program or a seasonal program following winter to get fit for spring gardening.
Consider sports-specific programs like personal training, small group training, or yoga for golf. Boutique studios who offer yoga or Pilates can capitalize on these types of niche programs.
Walking, hiking, or running programs offer a dynamic social element that baby boomers enjoy. Identify a lead from your staff and organize the program ahead of time, e.g. meeting location, course, times, etc. It may end up more about the flora, fauna, and birds than the workout so be prepared.
Get them out of the gym. Develop a program, a type of “senior boot camp,” that meets outdoors.
Establish a solid team approach to cross-sell personal training and group classes. Encourage personal trainers and group instructors to work together. Trainers can familiarize and reassure their baby boomer clients of the benefits of supplementing their personal training with group classes. And for members taking group classes, instructors should promote personal training to help with, for example, balance or lower body strength for prevention or specific sports movements and strength for golf or tennis. It’s important to aging boomers and seniors to maintain continuity with their sport and as a social aspect. It’s not something they want to give up yet.
Inclusion as a Retention Tool
Baby boomers and seniors enjoy feeling a part of something, and it can improve their active lifestyle. Clubs and fitness centers can leverage opportunities that offer inclusion for this member group to increase retention. You may also find it enriches your membership overall.
Following a boutique model, create a club or grouping of clubs within your organization based on the interests and activities of boomers and seniors. Consider developing different clubs with a singular focus helmed under one programming umbrella. Create an overarching name to identify the program under which are the various clubs and activities for your baby boomer members, e.g. personal training for golf, a walking or hiking club, a cooking club, or specialized group fitness. Create clubs based on the interests of these members. Make t-shirts with the program and club name.
Remember to be mindful of names and positioning. This population group is sometimes sensitive and you won’t want to necessarily call them out as aging seniors. So be mindful and get creative.
Consider these different “club” interests:
- Silver Singles Club
- Wine and Book Club
- Aquatics Group
- Community Service Club
- Sunshine Club – a new member welcoming club
Baby boomers and seniors are great member community ambassadors. They love sending cards and continue the thoughtful tradition. Ask your welcome club to send out personal cards for members’ birthdays, anniversaries, or other special occasions. It will have a greater impact than an e-card or automated email. Have them serve as greeters at your next club event. They’ll be honored.
Aging baby boomers and seniors can bring more to your facility than loyalty, retention, and revenue. They also offer diversity and can enhance a club’s membership through their lifetime of experience and wisdom of time. Don’t forget about them.