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Ages and Stages of Wellness Programming

Facility managers and directors are in a strategic position to bring health-and-wellness solutions to members across all ages and stages of life. Where to begin? Start by offering programs that are inclusive, age-appropriate, age-shared and family-focused. Create and share experiences for the entire family in an “open concept” center that embraces everyone.

Health Assessments

Before you consider programming options for your membership segments, ask your members to provide you with a baseline assessment of their health.

  • Offer all members and their dependents a health risk appraisal (HRA) once each year. Make this questionnaire the point of entry. The HRA will capture information on nutrition, physical activity, stress and well-being, health history, safety and self-care. Having this information gives you the opportunity to make customized lifestyle recommendations. Add point-of-care testing, so the lab values can be obtained. If you are not set up to provide this service, partner with a health system.
  • Next, introduce your team to wellness coaching, or partner with an agency that provides this service. Have the appropriate staff member—perhaps a registered nurse or a wellness coach—meet in person with interested members and with all individuals who have higher risk levels. This service can also be provided effectively via telephone.
  • Refer members to personal trainers who will address individuals’ specific needs and create custom plans to help people see results and reduce health risks over time. Offer higher-risk members the chance to be rescreened in 3–6 months for a progress assessment.
  • Develop and offer lifestyle management programs in the following areas: weight management, physical activity, nutrition, stress management, cholesterol education, hypertension education, smoking cessation and back care. If you do not wish to staff these lifestyle programs, establish partnerships with local agencies to provide this assistance. Also consider partnering with local physicians.

Even the fittest adult may be faced with low-back pain, hypertension, high stress and weight gain. What better place for people to increase their knowledge of health and wellness than at your fitness facility? The following populations represent a small, manageable sampling of your potential membership base. Use the baseline information you glean from the HRA to provide these people with targeted wellness programming.


Overweight children are very likely to become overweight or obese adults. It’s an extremely difficult cycle to break. An unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle are known risk factors for coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The good news is that healthy behaviors can positively impact the problems associated with these ailments.

One program that’s worth noting is the Let’s Move! initiative (letsmove.gov), launched by First Lady Michelle Obama. The task force’s recommendations focus on five pillars:

  1. Create a healthy start for children. Include dependents in the HRA, so you have their baseline information.
  2. Empower parents and caregivers. Teach parents the skills they need in order to provide healthy lifestyles for their families. In every wellness program, feature exercise and nutrition education. Teach members about choosing healthful snacks, packing healthy lunches, cooking well-balanced meals, dining out wisely and eating well on a budget.
  3. Provide healthy food in schools. Be an advocate for this in your community.
  4. Improve access to healthy, affordable foods. Take your programming outdoors, and teach families about the environment, gardening and the value of eating healthy.
  5. Increase physical activity. Give families a chance to get in shape together and learn the many benefits of exercise. This is an area where fitness facilities should excel.

Here are some family-oriented programs:

Family health challenge. Create a fun 8-week program that includes grandparents, parents and children. Include a fit test or HRA, goal setting, nutrition lessons, healthy snacking, stress reduction and post-testing.

Scavenger hunt. Make the goals be finding healthy food choices and discovering how much fun movement can be.

Family-centric classes. Develop classes specifically for the family unit. How about a boot camp, a dance class or a circuit class?

For a well-developed list of ideas about structuring classes, camouflaging fitness, maximizing participation and managing children in activity programs, read “Kids on the Move” by Cindy Bross, PhD.


Teenagers have their own special challenges, which include evolving self-esteem and self-image. Give them a safe, controlled space where they can meet, be with like-minded friends and socialize—without feeling exposed or self-conscious.

Here are some teen-centered ideas:

Dance-based classes. Turn your studio into a dance club, and play music that teens appreciate.

Mentor programs. Give teens a chance to be leaders while they learn. Set up mentoring programs for those interested in becoming group fitness instructors, personal trainers or wellness coaches.

Integrate gaming. Get teens engaged and moving by setting up Wii Fit or Dance Dance Revolution in your facility.

Older Adults

Older adults are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases and conditions such as arthritis, diabetes and heart disease, as well as disabilities caused by injuries from falling. Provide programs that teach seniors how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, prevent falls, remain socially engaged and feel supported (Administration on Aging, www.aoa.gov).

There are many challenges associated with aging, but obesity increases the difficulty. To age well, older individuals need to know how to exercise properly and what foods are right for them. They need socialization and support in order to cope with the psychological and physical changes that accompany aging. Provide programs on wellness, health promotion and fitness to help them understand the complexities of this time of their lives.

Here are some programming ideas especially for seniors:

Start off right. Encourage older adults to include the HRA annually with their membership. Also encourage them to share this health information with their primary care provider. If you can save them one or more visits to the doctor by improving their health and increasing their awareness of healthy living, they’ll come to view you as a necessity in their annual financial planning.

Create the continuum of care. Assist elders with their health needs, and refer them to the appropriate health and wellness programs at your facility or in the community.

Get social. Offer social support opportunities beyond exercise classes. Provide a coffee club, dinner club, senior singles club, etc.

Remember the family. Offer classes that include the entire family. Many grandparents are raising their children’s children, and it’s important to them to include multiple generations.

Address skills. Offer age-appropriate and skill-based classes for older adults. Create chair yoga or chair dance classes. To encourage independent living, feature programs that focus on strength training. Offer balance workshops and fall management programs that address the fear of falling and provide core training.

It’s time to program our fitness facilities to provide opportunities for optimum health and wellness over our members’ entire lifespan. Network with your community to leverage partnerships and create roadmaps that support the lifelong aging process.

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