The worst that we can fear about the elderly is not that they are growing old, but that they have developed a mindset that is no longer young. — Anonymous
For years, aging has been looked at as a physical impairment, but now people know that this is not always the case. Instead of following older adults who are in a steady decline, researchers are focusing on those who remain as vibrant, energetic and resilient as their younger counterparts. How do these people stay so young? With regular physical activity. Your health club can help them stay young by offering programs that are catered to older adults.
Changing activity levels:
In the early 1900s, physical activity was not a problem. People walked to town to buy goods that they could not produce on their own, laundry was done by hand and most products were produced as a result of human effort. Unfortunately, people then did not live as long as they do now, because little was known about health and disease.
Things have changed since then. Medical research has prolonged life, but technology has also minimized the need for physical activity. Now there are drive-through banks, remote controls and even the “clapper” to allow people to turn off their lights without getting out of bed.
The unfortunate part about all of this technological progress is that people are not getting the exercise that they need to keep their bodies and minds young. Also, the quality of life is negatively impacted by physical inactivity, and many people die from it prematurely.
Effects of inactivity:
According to the Healthy People 2000 report, each year in the United States, 250,000 deaths can be attributed to physical inactivity. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is a major cause of death in the U.S. in people older than 65, and sedentary lifestyles are shown to be a risk factor, independent of other health habits, for the development of CAD. Also, more than 300,000 coronary artery bypass procedures are performed annually in the U.S. Is it a surprise, then, that a recent estimation concluded that approximately 80 percent of the U.S. population is not adequately physically active?
A landmark study conducted by Morris and colleagues in 1953 examined the relationship between physical activity and death. The study compared the cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk rates of 31,000 London transportation workers. The people who walked and climbed stairs frequently during the day had significantly lower rates and milder manifestations of CVD that their less active counterparts. Hundreds of studies have been conducted since 1953, emphasizing that an active lifestyle can decrease morbidity and mortality across the life span. In other words, regular physical activity, including strength and cardio-respiratory fitness, is critical to the maintenance of healthy, independent living as people grow older.
While the activity level of all individuals should be addressed, the older generation is often forgotten or ignored. The fitness industry has a tremendous opportunity to tap into this growing segment of the population. Marketing and programming strategies for the younger and middle-aged populations are not as effective with the older adults. It is essential that these strategies address the needs of this unique group of people.
Examine the reasons for lack of exercise. Before you begin marketing and programming to seniors, examine the reasons why people in this population do not exercise. A common reason is lack of time. Anyone who has attempted to improve exercise adherence is all too familiar with this excuse. While some people are in fact very busy, most have merely adopted the perception that they are too busy to exercise. It may help to have your senior clients keep a log or journal for a few weeks. They may find that their time goes to where it does for the average American, who watches between 27 to 30 hours of television per week.
After neutralizing the issue of time, address the next reason for not being active: fatigue. First, determine whether the fatigue is a result of a medical condition. If it is, your client should seek medical advice. Many times seniors are fatigued because they do not sleep well at night. If they don’t sleep, it may be because they are inactive during the day.
The last common reason given for not being physically active is a chronic painful condition, such as osteoporosis, arthritis or bad back, knee, hip, etc. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, in 1996, 25 million Americans were affected by osteoporosis, resulting in an estimated 1.5 million fractures. With arthritis, the majority of people over the age of 65 show some radiological evidence of osteoarthritis. However, in 1996, the Department of Health and Human Services stated that physical activity that is appropriate for a person who has a joint or bone condition can contribute to increased function and mobility, increased energy and an improved sense of well-being.
Marketing. Of course, it is difficult to address lack of time, fatigue and pain if older adults do not come into your facility. A public-service type of ad campaign may prove effective as a simple marketing procedure. It should be kept purely educational with a brief mention of your facility at the end encouraging readers to call your facility for more information. A public service message could also be coupled with a less subtle advertisement on what your club has to offer in the way of physical activity for seniors.
Your second marketing strategy can focus on why people exercise. Capitalize on the reasons for exercising offered by older people who are already engaged in physical activity. The most common reasons seniors give for exercising are feeling better, having fun, controlling weight, improving flexibility, relaxing, socializing and reducing stress. A study of men and women ages 50 to 81 found that exercise is an important way to receive positive feedback from others and to improve individual fitness. Another study of women who were older than 50 listed their incentives for participating in physical activity as social interaction, improved mental health, weight control and physical appearance. Physical activity in people who are older is known to increase muscle tone, strength and agility, which in turn, helps to prevent falls.
Emphasize some of these positive factors of physical activity in your ad campaign. If you use a print ad, make sure the person in the picture is an older adult who is doing something that is common among their peers. A good example for demonstrating strength and flexibility is showing an older person lifting a grandchild. If you run a radio ad, the people in the ad should be discussing an issue relevant to the older population, and why being physically active is beneficial to them.
A successful marketing strategy can get people in the door, but then what? Do you have programs that will appeal to an older population? Individualization with socialization is key. Each person needs to have personal attention. It is also important that activities build on what the person already enjoys. Once it is determined what each person can and cannot do, most of the programs should focus on group activities. This population seeks social interaction and is motivated by positive feedback. Whether it is water exercise, outdoor walking, stretching, indoor biking, resistance training or modified yoga, all can be performed effectively in a group. Finally, all programming should revolve around education and promoting the benefits of physical activity for improving quality of life.
The fitness industry possesses the necessary tools to successfully get the older population moving. While extreme care is needed when dealing with older adults, remember that people die from coronary heart disease, not exercise.