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Know Your Market Niche

Powerful Forces Impact Clients As They Ride the Age Wave

Since the mid-1990s, the fitness industry has been readying itself for a rising tide of older adults. Fitness professionals have grown with this nich market, trying to anticipate its needs and learning on a daily basis which direction to take. While we don’t have all the answers to what the best modifications are, what the proper marketing plan is or whatever even whether to call these clients “seniors” or “older adults” (or both), we do know there is a need for specialized fitness services.

Populations Scope

These statistics provide a glimpse of the current older-adult market in the United States, with an emphasis on projected future growth.

  • The older population (aged 65+) numbered 35 million in 2000, an increase of 3.7 million, or 12 percent (%), since 1990.
  • The number of Americans aged 45 to 64—who will reach 65 over the next two decades—increased by 34% in the ’90s.
  • By the year 2030, the older population will swell to about 70 million.
  • Members of minority groups are projected to represent 25% of the older population in 2030, up from 16% in 2000.
  • The median income of older persons in 2000 was $19,168 for males and $10,899 for females. Between 1999 and 2000, real median income (adjusted for inflation) fell by 2.8% for men and 3.6% for women.

Application: Fitness Managers: Consider providing more senior-specific programming at a reduced price. Personal Trainers: Offer senior-specific group sessions and provide in-home services for shut-ins. Group Fitness Instructors: Add a social element to classes.

Activity and Function

  • Data from the 1999 National Long-Term Care Survey show that disability among adults aged 65 and older declined 0.56% per year from 1994 to 1999.
  • According to the 2002 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey, fitness facility managers and owners estimate that 29% of their clients and members are 55 or older.
  • The number of health club members aged 55 and older grew 273% between 1987 and 2001, from 1.5 million to 5.6 million (SGMA International).

Application: Design diverse programs to accommodate all fitness levels in a wide range of age groups.

Depression and Illness

  • 20% of older adults have their quality of life seriously compromised by mental health needs yet are unlikely to take advantage of mental health services.
  • Older adults who are depressed are at increased risk for physical health problems, disability, premature placement in nursing homes, and death.
  • Older adults have the highest suicide rate of any age group in the United States, with depression being the foremost risk factor.

Application: Learn the basics of how to recognize depression among your older-adult clients, and have a list of professional mental health practitioners you can refer them to. ‰


  • Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States.
  • In 2001, 70 million—or 1 in 3—adults had arthritis and chronic joint symptoms.
  • More women than men (37.3% and 28.4%, respectively) reported having arthritis and chronic joint symptoms.

Application: Design programs and classes that offer modifications, if necessary, for people with arthritis. Educate clients about the many benefits of exercise.

Nutrition Status

  • 87% of older Americans have one or more chronic diseases that can be improved by nutrition therapy. These include cancer, chronic lung disease, congestive heart failure, dementia, diabetes mellitus, high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, obesity and overweight.
  • 40% of community-residing older Americans eat poorly. For example, three-fourths of older African Americans and two-thirds of older Caucasian Americans eat fewer than the 5 recommended servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Up to two-thirds of hip fractures are due to inadequate calcium intake.
  • 50% of older caregivers are at nutritional risk and would benefit from nutrition interventions.

Application: Staying within your scope of practice, help older-adult clients identify nutrition areas that need improvement. Always refer these clients to a registered dietitian or other nutrition professional for any recommendations above and beyond the Food Guide Pyramid.


Administration on Aging. www.aoa.gov; retrieved December 18, 2002.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC’s 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. www.cdc.gov; retrieved January 2003.
Gu, X., & Manton, K.G. 2000. Changes in the prevalence of chronic disability in the United States black and nonblack population above age
65 from 1982 to 1999. Durham, NC: Center for Demographic Studies at Duke University.
Lichtenstein, A., Rasmussen, H., & Russell, R. Tufts Food Guide Pyramid for Older Adults. Boston: Tufts University Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Office of the Surgeon General. Mental health: A report of the Surgeon General. www.surgeongeneral.gov; retrieved December 19, 2002.
Ryan, P. 2002. 7th Annual 2002 IDEA Fitness Programs & Equipment Survey. IDEA Fitness Manager (October), 6.
SGMA International. 2002. Tracking the Fitness Movement. North Palm Beach, Florida.
Spirduso, W. 1995. Physical Dimensions of Aging. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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