Tips to take advantage of the potentially lucrative seniors’ market.
The senior population presents a huge pool of potential clients for the commercially minded trainer, often with more disposable income than their younger counterparts. However, beyond pure market forces, there is a mission here that the fitness industry should really be helping to address. The surprising fact is, that despite advances in modern medicine, recent studies revealed life expectancy is falling in both the UK and the US. (according to the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, respectively). Whilst there exists several reasons for the decline, several of them are problems we know we can counter, such as bad diet, lack of exercise, stress and mental health issues.
Developing your career in this domain, then, could prove to be highly rewarding in every sense. The American College of Sports Medicine report in their Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends 2019 that fitness programming for older adults ranks 4th in their top 20 of fitness trends, ahead of bodyweight training, yoga and weight loss coaching.
A 10-week study established that neural adaptations and the capacity of skeletal muscle to undergo training-induced remodeling, even in older people, can lead to gains in maximal force in older men (Hakkinen, et al., 1998).
The Takeaway - This is a great sell for your resistance training programs, so take every opportunity to warn of the risk of sarcopenia and associated loss of functional capability. Also advise that strength exercises will enable your clients to make light work of the gardening and to hit a 250 yard drive down the center of the fairway with ease.
KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE
The 55+ demographic makes up around 36% of the UK population, but only 20% of members of public leisure facilities fall within this age bracket. Sadly, usage rates of those aged 65+ is even lower, accounting for only 9% of visits. Clearly, as an industry, we’re not providing a sufficiently attractive offer to older people.
The Takeaway - Commit to continuing education to ensure you are familiar with the needs and changing anatomy and physiology of this population subset. Up-skill yourself in appropriate workout modes, such as fitness walking and aqua exercise (UK Active Research Institute ), so you can create and deliver entertaining and effective sessions that are regularly updated and refreshed.
AGE IS NOTHING BUT A NUMBER
Predicting longevity is not an absolute science, but it appears those who perform better in fitness tests and effectively displaying a lower physiological age than their birth certificate indicates, are stacking the odds in their favor. A 65-year-old who ranks as 55 in the tests will probably outlive his peers. On the flipside, a 45-year-old scoring in line with expectations for a 55-year-old should take note that he/she is likely losing years (Harb, et al., 2019).
The Takeaway - Spread this message through your social media channels, through educational seminars, blogs and everyday conversations. When more and more people realize they (and their relatives) could live longer and healthier by committing to regular exercise, you could generate a queue of new clients for yourself.
IT’S ALL IN THE TIMING
90% of leisure facility visits by people over 65 take place on weekdays, with almost half occurring late morning (9am–12pm) when facilities are under-utilized by other customer groups (UK Active Research Institute).
The Takeaway - Renting suitable spaces for seniors small group training and group exercise sessions should be easier and cheaper at these times so schedule seniors’ activities specifically within these windows and negotiate with leisure facility operators for a best price.
TECH IS NOT JUST FOR YOUNGSTERS
A study in Denmark has shown that using virtual reality (VR) can help seniors become more physically active by making exercise safe and more fun. Participants chose from several virtual cycling routes (for example through a park, a snowy pine forest or up a mountain) and the footage was synchronized to match the speed at which the subjects were cycling. Results showed that seniors were motivated to increase their exercise levels (Aalborg University, 2016).
The Takeaway - If you have a VR headset, could you get creative and introduce it into a one-to-one session? Maybe a small group training session could take place in one of the growing numbers of VR gaming centers? Look out for Black Box, the world’s first fully immersive virtual reality gym, the first of which will be opening in San Francisco, but looks likely to quickly spread across the globe.
HOMES FOR FITNESS
An entrepreneurial trainer in the north of England noticed that UK seaside towns often play host to lots of residential homes, and due to seasonal employment, have a ready-made, available workforce. So, he put 2 and 2 together and came up with the idea of training unemployed people to deliver basic chair fitness sessions for the elderly. His company, Oomph, now works with over 1000 care homes and clocked nearly a million hours of activity last year.
The Takeaway - Could you mirror this model? Maybe a speculative approach to organizations such as the Women’s Institute, Age UK, Careline365, Saga, AARP, etc, could bear fruit.
WE’RE NOT OLD
The problem with marketing your services to this demographic is that as soon as you label a service specifically for old people, they appear to be turned off, something referred to as the consumer paradox. The trick here is to think of this market as ‘active adults’ or ‘ageless’. It’s also worth remembering that services you’ve designed for other generations will also appeal to an older consumer. Tablets are a great example of inclusive design that crosses age-range, with 51% of UK people over the age of 65 owning one.
Takeaway - if you sell online fitness programs or stream live workouts, don’t just focus on generations X and Z, as creating specific content for the senior market will pay dividends.
Older adults are more likely to stick with a group exercise program if they can do it with people their own age. Working out with peers of the same gender doesn't seem to make a difference, which suggests that age-targeting, but not gender-targeting, should be considered when developing exercise programming (Beauchamp et al., 2018).
The Takeaway - If you’re offering group sessions segment specific options for the senior client rather than a general, all-comers workout.
SUPPLEMENT YOUR INCOME
Don’t be fooled into thinking protein shakes are purely for gym buffs. When taken on a regular basis, a ready-to-drink formula was found to significantly enhance the strength of senior citizens (Bell et al., 2017).
Takeaway - If you sell nutrition supplements as a secondary income source, be sure to profess the benefits to your senior clients.
Overloading skeletal muscle in older men will result in increases in fiber size and capillary density, leading to significant hypertrophy. It appears older men may not only tolerate very high intensity workloads, but will exhibit intramuscular, and metabolic changes like younger subjects (Hagerman et al., 2000).
The Takeaway - Go heavy or go home really does seem to be the secret to eternal youth. So don’t let your senior clients mistakenly feel that due to their advancing years, they should be reducing the amount of iron on the bar.
Hakkinen, et al. (1998). Changes in muscle morphology, electromyographic activity and force production characteristics during progressive strength training in young and older men. The Journals of Gerontology, 53(6), B415-423.
UK Active Research Institute. (2018). The Moving Communities: Active Leisure Trends 2018 Report. Retrieved from: https://web.datahubclub.com/moving-communities-active-leisure-trends-2018-report/.
Harb, et al. (2019). Estimated age based on exercise stress testing outperforms chronological age in predicting mortality. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology [Epub ahead of print]. Aalborg University. (2016). Virtual experience gets the elderly to exercise. Science Daily. Retrieved from: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161018093824.htm.
Beauchamp, et al. (2018). Group-based physical activity for older adults (GOAL) randomized controlled trial exercise adherence outcomes. Health Psychology, 37(5), 451-461.
Bell, et al. (2017). A whey protein-based multi-ingredient nutritional supplement stimulates gains in lean body mass and strength in healthy older men: A randonized control trial. PloS One, 12(7), e0181387.
Hagerman, et al. (2000). Effects of high-intensity resistance training on untrained older men. The Journals of Gerontology, 55(7), B336-346.
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