senior workouts

Designing Senior Fitness Centers for All Seniors

« Blog | Written by ezfacility | | (7) Comments

When my father went for his routine checkup with his doctor, he was sent straight to the hospital for a triple-bypass operation. Needless to say, my family started focusing hard on getting him to exercise. We found a weekly cardio class for him at the senior center in his small town, but it wasn’t enough. He felt uncomfortable and self-conscious in that setting — too exposed to the non-exercising seniors — and he didn’t like the routine of the one class that was offered. When the instructor began poking fun at him for being the only man there, he quit on the spot-and while my family all understood- we didn’t want him to quit exercising altogether.

So we sent him for a trial session at a local gym. He took one look at the young, pumped-up clientele and turned tail. It was intimidating and overwhelming for him to think of learning, or re-learning, how to exercise among such a crowd.

What did my father need?

What he really needed was a senior center that incorporated a fitness facility focused particularly on the needs of an older adult population. We found this harder to locate than we thought would be the case. There were many senior centers in the towns surrounding his, but few of them incorporated adequate exercise facilities. They either offered meager pieces of machinery that seemed older than the population they served, or classes that attempted to be one-size-fits-all for a community that was really quite diverse.

This, it turns out, is a common problem: As a recent article in Athletic Business magazine states, “One of the greatest misunderstandings about senior centers is that they serve one generation. In fact, as currently configured, senior centers target members of the so-called Silent Generation, Depression-era babies who are now between 69 and 89; the remaining members of the Greatest Generation, the youngest of whom are now 90; and increasingly, the Baby Boomers, who are now in the range of 50 to 68 years old.” None of the offerings at the places we checked out seemed to fully target my father’s generation.

Eventually, we found a gym that isn’t perfect for him, but is a good enough fit. It has a special “Senior Room,” where older adults in particular are invited to gather for classes — and one of those classes is particularly for men in their seventies who were recovering from heart surgery. That kind of specificity is rare and welcoming. A corner of the room, overseen by trainers who specialize in older adult fitness, is equipped with free weights and cardio machines that allow my father to undertake the independent, free-weight sessions he likes best, but without the pressure of younger adults killing it on their reps all around him. He still wishes he had access to a center that would cater solely to the needs of older adults like him, but he’s making it work. Maybe eventually we’ll find a place for him like The Summit, located in Grand Prairie, Texas.

The Summit was “specifically designed for active adults ages 50 or older.” It operates on the principle that senior centers should serve all seniors, whether they’re in their 50s or their 90s. It strives to incorporate spaces for socializing, but to keep those spaces separate from the workout areas. For now, we’ll settle for the fitness centers that consciously create spaces for seniors.

Maybe it’s time to consider how your own facility might better serve an older adult population. How can you create a space just for them? How can you cater to the varying needs of the many different generations who make up “older adults”? How can you design a program that benefits both that sizable population and your own facility? Do you currently have a health club management software that utilizes senior discount programs like Silver Sneakers? My father will thank you if you figure out good answers to such questions.

Targeting the Golden Ager

« Blog | Written by ezfacility | | (0) Comments

My son recently learned how to ride a bicycle, and the last time I took him to visit my parents, he insisted on bringing his new, bright green set of wheels along. My nearly seventy-year-old father, mostly sedentary and not in the best of health, surprised me by pulling his old bike out of the shed, dusting it off, and declaring that he was going to join in on a ride. He was slow and creaky at first, and he fell off once — with nothing more than hurt pride, thankfully — but he went a full four miles with my son (who streaked along with abandon, delighting in his ability to outpace Grandpa).

We don’t see my parents as often as I’d like, and I don’t want my father waiting around for our quarterly visits to get his exercise. When I told him he should join a gym, he laughed, saying he’d be embarrassed to show his old self among all those young, fit bodies. When I told him there are gyms especially for the elderly, and ones with programs geared just toward that group, he was surprised. He’d had no idea.

What can such gyms do to be sure they’re reaching golden agers like my dad? While advertising in obvious places — AARP magazine, for example — is probably a good idea if you’re a national establishment with branches around the country, many older folks, my dad included, have a more local focus. They want to go someplace right in town, and they like venues that seek their business in personal ways. One effective move might be to visit a senior center near your gym or health club and put up simple flyers — or, better yet, send one of your trainers who is knowledgeable about the older demographic. Have him or her give a presentation, demonstrate easy exercises for seniors, and maybe do one-on-one consultations. And make sure business cards get handed out, perhaps along with membership or class coupons.

Another option might be to sponsor a Walk for Senior Health in your area, something a local paper might write about. You’d not only drum up some business, you’d also raise awareness about the need for seniors to pay attention to their health. I know my dad could use all the reminders he can get.

In general, keep in mind the kinds of places people more advanced in years might go: in addition to senior centers, libraries, clubs like the Elks or Rotary, town halls, and doctors’ offices are all good options. Then head to those places and start talking about your programs that might interest them. If you remind them that working out regularly will help them keep up with their grandchildren, they’re likely to sign on with gusto.