What's Ahead for Older-Adult Fitness? a Surprising Answer

Article excerpt

The fitness industry is filled with "egotistical maniacs" whose aim is only to make fit people fitter, proclaimed Sandy Coffman in a workshop titled "Marketing to the 50-Plus Population" at the IDEA Health and Fitness Association Personal Trainer Summit, held in New York City last October. Instead of focusing on the huge market of boomers and elders who need exercise most, the industry "has blinders on" and thus is not even reaching 20% of the population. Perhaps this is why only about two dozen people showed up for Coffman's session while others quickly filled to standing-room-only crowds of more than 100 participants.

Coffman, who is president and owner of a Florida-based fitness consulting business, Programming for Profit, noted that whereas in the 19805 and '905, fitness was all about the body, now it is about balancing body, mind and spirit-with an emphasis on the latter two. To attract what she dubs the yeepies (youthful energetic elderly person(s) into everything), the industry must accept that "fitness is about the neck up-having a positive attitude and self-esteem, feeling OK about where you're at now," she stated. "Clubs think that if they have the newest equipment, it will build their business. But we already have enough equipment to do the job."


Older people come to the gym with specific wants and needs, she continued. Among the wants: socialization, mind stimulation, leadership, comfort and convenience, laughter and value. The needs: to improve range of motion, balance, injuries or limitations, and posture.

To show that these wants and needs could be met without fancy equipment, Coffman switched on dance music from the 19508 and urged workshop attendees to participate in a class. Workshop participants remained seated as Coffman led us through range-of-motion exercises that involved swirling our arms, clapping our hands and stomping our feet. She then showed video clips of similar classes that she has conducted in community centers and other venues around the United States. The images of elders and younger people with disabilities smiling, laughing and moving to the music were poignant and uplifting.

Nevertheless, I squirmed in my seat at the notion that this was the future of fitness. I thought of my personal training clients, many of whom are boomers participating in intense, structured workout programs-several for the first time. I thought of myself, and my joy at finally having found a high-impact aerobics class that is both fun and physically demanding. Perhaps, though, we are simply the gym and health club people who, as Coffman asserted, should not be the target market of the industry.

Coffman envisions health clubs that feature "clubs within clubs," with discreet areas where people of similar ages or fitness levels can congregate and exercise. Such clubs would serve meals or snacks; have "empathie, energetic, enthusiastic, happy, entertaining and memorable" staff; and emphasize camaraderie, atmosphere, recognition for goals achieved and so on.

Her vision is admirable, but I don't think it's for everyone. My "gym friends" and I go to the gym first and foremost to be challenged physically; socialization is part of it, but that's not the main draw. Nor am I sure that commercial health clubs will easily make the transition to more community-minded, socialization-oriented gathering places. But, clearly, Coffman and others are working toward this approach and see it as an important new direction for the fitness industiy.


Even though most health clubs are not making a major marketing push to attract boomers and ciders, results from IDEA'S 2004 Health and Fitness Association survey, released at the summit, suggest that the clubs are at least attempting to accommodate these populations. …