The face of fitness is an always changing canvass. One group that continues to have a considerable impact on the fitness industry is the Baby Boomers. This group of 37 to 54 year olds is comprised of approximately 77.7 million people. Granted, by population size alone, they are a significant force, but what in particular is making the fitness industry stand up and listen? The answer again lies in the numbers. To be more specific, the answer is in the membership numbers. According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, health club members over age 55 grew by 343 percent from 1987 to 2003. Additionally, the number of members in the 35 to 54 age group increased by 180 percent. This translates into an estimated 41.3 million (and growing!) number of health and fitness conscious individuals.
With the average 45 year old Baby Boomer expected to live to age 79 (men three years less and women two and a half years more), health is a major concern. Baby Boomers are paying attention to the current research suggesting that many health issues, once labeled as being a result of “old age,” are in fact no longer valid. For example, the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that inactivity doubles the risk of mobility limitations as a person ages, while vigorous activity has the opposite effect. Another study published by the Journal of Neurology found that exercise can assist in slowing cognitive decline. In a nutshell, our minds are staying sharper longer. Inactivity as we grow older is no longer an acceptable state of being for most Baby Boomers.
As Baby Boomers stand up and take notice of the increasing benefits of health and fitness, they have begun to demand more from fitness providers. They’ve sent a clear message that this demographic segment of fitness and image conscious people do not view a professionally designed fitness regiment as a luxury but as a necessity for maintaining a longer, healthier and more productive life.
For fitness providers, they represent an untapped market just waiting for the right tailor-made program to come along. A handful of fitness providers have been operating successful programs geared to older participants. Others, facilities and trainers alike, are moving quickly to implement more user friendly Baby Boomer programs. Finding the right formula remains a key challenge for all fitness providers.
In 1992, the SilverSneakers Fitness Program was created to promote improved health through unique physical activity and healthy lifestyle programs. Specifically, the program targets older adults by offering classes that motivate individuals to increase their physical activity and adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors, thereby improving health status, managing risk and lowering costs.
Today, the SilverSneakers Fitness Program teams up with various health insurers to Medicare recipients to reach more people. This has been accomplished through partnerships with fitness centers throughout the U.S.
More than 19 health plans in 14 states offer the program at no additional cost to more than 1.2 million Medicare-eligible members through a network of more than 1,260 contracted SilverSneakers fitness centers across the United States. More fitness providers are coming on board as well.
There is a long list of companies specifically targeting Baby Boomers. If you have taken a look at the landscape, you will see a growing trend in the fitness industry as a sign telling you to not discount this demographic. Whether it be women over age 45, men over age 50, people juggling the active lifestyle of career and family. This is one of the fastest growing markets in the fitness industry.
Who Are They?
Baby Boomers posses a unique set of beliefs and characteristics that vary greatly from previous generations. These beliefs and characteristics have impacted all aspects of their lives, beliefs about self, career, home, leisure and fitness. Baby Boomers are typically well educated, which has led them to be more sophisticated and demanding. This “me generation” is highly individualistic, which tends to make them independent and self indulgent. Boomers are likely to “tell it like it is,” yet they are sensitive to situations that make them feel as if they are being insulted or patronized.
As Don Taylor, co-author of Up Against the Wal-Marts explains, "Boomers may be pushing 50, but most of them are still thinking 30. They are more health conscious than earlier generations, will live longer and will be more active in their senior years. They want to be recognized as important, intelligent and caring. Though the realities of earning a living, raising a family and securing their future weigh heavily on them, they still care about image."
Boomers are spending over $1 trillion per year on goods and services. They have over $750 billion in annual discretionary income. More importantly, they are willing to invest some of that discretionary income in traditional and alternative health and fitness services and products. Fitness providers just need to come up with the right program and marketing plan that will appeal to this population segment.
Developing a Suitable Marketing Message
Traditionally, marketing campaigns have tended to focus on externally direct values. Messages appealing to those wanting to obtain the perfect body with rock hard abs or gluts were historically effective. However, as the old adage goes “that dog won’t hunt anymore" is true when it comes to attracting Baby Boomers.
Boomers are not interested in these types of externally directed values. If you want to appeal to a Baby Boomer, your marketing efforts will need to focus on internally driven values such as age acceptance, emotional well being, age-related illnesses and the benefits of increased stamina and energy gained from exercising.
Marketing and advertising efforts should also stress independence, quality of life and the social aspect of fitness. Baby Boomers value their independence and interaction with their peers. Advertising should appeal to the social features of exercising and fitness (i.e., meeting people and making new friends).
Other Ideas and Tips
If you are interested in attracting more Baby Boomers to your services, think about these ideas and tips:
- Consider providing common social areas where people can interact and socialize before or after their workouts.
- Provide special programming geared to older clients. Many surveys indicate that older patrons prefer water exercise classes, Tai Chi, line dancing, low impact and chair aerobics, walking and strength training.
- Offer music appropriate to your clientele. You do not need to play Glen Miller and Ella Fitzgerald in the background, but be aware that Snoop Doggy Dog and Gwen Steffani are not likely to entice your clients to use your services.
- Offer the appropriate equipment designed for their level of training and fitness. For example, most strength equipment only allows for 10 pound increments, which can be too much for some older adults. Consider offering smaller weight increments.
- Design shorter classes and workouts. Many Boomers lead very active lives, and time is always an issue. Instead of a typically 90 minute session, consider offering a 30 minute abbreviated alternative.
- Ease off on the mirrors. Many older adults are not particularly interested in watching themselves sweat or exercise.
- Be careful not to assume that all older clients want the “easy does it programs.” With many people living to be 100, the term “older adult” lumps close to 50 years of living into one category. The fact is that needs and abilities within each age group bracket can vary greatly. It is more important to focus on assessing individual capability and then design a program to meet their specific goals.
- Consider offering discounts to clients who use your services during off-peak hours. Many older adults enjoy working out during times that are typically very slow, such as 10:00am. This can be a win/win situation for everyone. Offering a discount provides your client with a value-added incentive to work out during off-peak hours and you with additional revenue during an otherwise off-peak time.
- Educate yourself and your staff to the needs of older clients. Older Baby Boomers have special needs that personal training staff should be aware of in order to provide better service and ensure a safe work out. There are several physical changes that occur in individuals over age 40, such as loss of bone density, muscle mass and endurance. By effectively training your staff to realize that these conditions may pose potential problems when designing and implementing a workout routine, you will be able to respond more effectively.
- Be mindful of your approach and attitude. Baby Boomers do not see themselves as aging. To them, they are just going on with their lives. Be careful not to approach them with a “seniors style program” designed just for them or to assume they belong in beginner class because they may appear out of shape. Always try to remember you are dealing with a well educated, savvy group of people.
Finally, try to create an atmosphere that is low profile and non competitive in nature. Boomers are not working out to create a buff body or to achieve a size 2. They aren’t interested in seeing who can bench press the most weight. They simply want to develop a fitness regiment that will allow them to achieve better health and possibly a longer life.