In recent years, the fitness industry has begun to take notice of the promise inherent in the 78-million-strong "actively aging" population. Because physical fitness plays such an important role in seniors' health and longevity, this demographic group represents a critical target market for clubs.

"It's probably the most viable market," posits Colin Milner, the CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA). "They have the money, and they have the desire to join clubs-98% of older adults understand that exercise is good for them. The challenge is: we need to show them how by offering them more services."

Peggy Buchanan, the senior exercise fitness spokesperson for the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, notes that, in order for such programs to be productive and profitable, they need to consider the whole person and their lifestyles. "A class is not just about strength training-but, rather, strength training to enable participants to go sailing or climb the Great Wall," she explains.

Scouting clubs nationwide, CBI found 10 exciting programs for seniors that provide a wide range of fitness benefits-e.g., cardiovascular, strength, flexibility, balance, and agility-as well as the all-important social connections that contribute so much to results and retention.

Trekking Across America

At Houstonian Lite, a 15,000-square-foot club in Sugar Land, Texas, 35-50 seniors take part in the "Walk-Across-America Challenge," a six-week motivational exercise program that's been offered three times a year for the past three years. Club members strap on pedometers and set off on a virtual walk from Texas across the country-or farther-choosing from a host of destinations, including San Diego, Boston, and even Athens, Greece. Participants walk at the facility and on their own to reach their daily step goals, which are calculated to match the mileage to their chosen city.

"The program is designed to get new members involved in cardio workouts, get existing members to put more effort into their cardio program, and keep our most active members motivated by providing a fun activity that can be as competitive as they want to make it," notes Steve Halligan, the program director.

Club members pay $25 ($15 covers the pedometer and $10 pays for a T-shirt) to participate.

Sprinting on Silver Spikes

At the Age Well Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, seniors pick up the pace via Silver Spikes, a program of regular sprinting workouts-both on treadmills and on the floor-to retrain and retain their fast-twitch muscle fiber, which improves their mobility and agility, helping to prevent falls and expedite recovery from injuries. Created in 2004, the program incorporates sprinting and skipping drills, as well as quick-power movements with resistance bands or on pneumatic machines.

"Working the fast-twitch muscle fibers as we get older is time-efficient, easier on the knees, and produces a great workout," explains Paul Holbrook, the owner and founder of the 2,700-square-foot personal training and wellness center for older adults.

The program has also proven to be an effective retention tool and an additional revenue source for the club. Participants, ages 50-75, access Silver Spikes through personal training packages (offered at $75-$85 per hour) or through monthly seminars ($35 per person).

A.C.E.S. in the Swimming Hole

With 40% of its 5,600 members over the age of 55, the Atlantic Club in Manasquan, New Jersey, offers its senior members-who are fondly referred to as A.C.E.S. (All Can Exercise Successfully)-an array of customized classes. One of its biggest draws is the water-exercise program, which includes tai chi and noodle classes and deep-water running, offered every day at various levels. Fifteen classes are offered per week and are included in the regular membership dues; each attracts up to 30 participants per session. A whopping 99% of water-exercise participants are over the age of 55, and about 350 people work out in the water each week.

"Our facility has earned a reputation as a place to exercise in the water, and that plays a huge role in member retention," explains Pat Weir, a personal trainer and senior program coordinator. "This type of exercise improves and maintains our members' quality of life."

Total-body Workout Miracles

Miracles Fitness, which has three locations in New Jersey and one in Louisiana, customizes its programming for the 77% of its membership that's over the age of 60. One of its most popular offerings is the club's proprietary total-body strength-training workout, which targets all of the major muscle groups safely and effectively.

"It's amazing to see how, in such a short period of time, strength training changes people's lives," attests Dottie Drake, a registered nurse and personal trainer, who created the program in 1998.

Through a class and a specially designed training circuit, the regimen emphasizes building the muscles that one needs to execute daily activities, such as making the bed or lifting groceries. It includes upper back, leg, chest, and triceps exercises performed on Keiser equipment, which features one-pound weight increments. Miracles also conducts chair-based strength-training classes that incorporate resistance bands, dumbbells, and motivating music. The program is included in membership dues.

Setting the PACE Against Arthritis

Many clubs across the country offer People With Arthritis Can Exercise, commonly known as PACE, which was developed by the Arthritis Foundation. The HealthFit Fitness Center in Needham, Massachusetts, offers a one-hour PACE class, twice a week, to its members for free (nonmembers pay $10 per class). In fact, demand for the class is so strong that owners John Atwood and Beth Wald are contemplating adding more sessions.

"I think the value is that these people stay mobile, active, and flexible, and are less likely to experience injury or falls," observes Atwood. "This program goes a long way toward keeping them fit."

PACE begins with a seated warm-up that includes range-of-motion exercises and a "joint check" to identify sore spots. The class proceeds to upper-body and lower-body strength training with light weights, balance training, cardiovascular work, stretching, and meditation. PACE instructors are certified by the Arthritis Foundation.

Nifty Fitness Coaching

Nifty After Fifty, a wellness facility in Whittier, California, is predicated on the principle that proper supervision and equipment are essential components of an exercise program for seniors.

On their first visit to the 4,000-square-foot club, clients are evaluated by a physical therapist and a fitness coach. They're introduced to, and tested on, all of the facility's equipment, which includes Keiser strength-training machines, free weights, the SCIFIT Total Body Recumbent Stepper, and the Next Generation Power-Plate. Workouts are then tailored to members' specific needs, and are subsequently supervised one-on-one or in groups. Fitness coaching is included in the club's $35 monthly fee.

The facility, which opened in the fall, is enrolling 4-5 new members every day, according to Dr. Sheldon S. Zinberg, the CEO and president.

"People like our multidisciplinary approach and constellation of services that really do produce a sense of greater wellness and lasting independence," he reflects.

Balancing Fitness and Therapy

Physical therapists George and Pat Fraser, the husband-and-wife team that owns Fifty 'n Fit Fitness and Therapy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have developed a balance class designed specifically for its membership, which ranges in age from 50-94.

The class, which is offered twice a week as part of membership dues, focuses on improving balance through practical exercises that enhance range of motion and strength. Activities include: single-leg stance, which strengthens the hips; making use of stability trainers; tandem walking (heel to toe); bending down to retrieve a Styrofoam cup off a cone; and lunges. In the process, students improve foot and ankle strength, posture, and abdominal muscles, all of which affect balance and stability.

George Fraser says the class has helped bring in new members and increased member retention. "These older folks are here because they say we have something special to offer. There aren't too many places that offer this kind of class," he points out.

Vive (Aerobics and) La Resistance!

BODYVIVE, a new group-fitness program from Les Mills International, targets active adult club members in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. The 55-minute class, which features aerobic exercise, resistance training, and stretching and mobility work, is scheduled to debut in clubs early this year.

The low-impact workout makes use of resistance tubes and balls to orchestrate alternating blocks of aerobic exercise ("heart fitness") and resistance training ("functional strength") that are set to music. The class concludes with a "core-and-restore" block, which blends tai chi, yoga, and abdominal and back work.

Every three months, the company will roll out a new program to keep the routine fresh and compelling.

Creative Director Emma Barry, who headed up the team that created BODYVIVE, says it will be very effective in attracting new members. "If this demographic is satisfied, they'll be very loyal," she suggests.

BODYVIVE can either be offered as a fee-based program or included in the regular membership.

Gold's Sports SilverSneakers

The nationally recognized SilverSneakers Fitness Program has proven so effective that Gold's Gym International, Inc. (GGI) has endorsed it, and several of its clubs have already added it to their senior offerings.

For instance, at Gold's Gym in Pasadena, California, the program has been a resounding success. "Enrollment has more than tripled-almost quadrupled-over the last few years," says Gwyn Chafetz, the senior advisor for the club. Since the program was first introduced at Gold's about six years ago, it's grown from 90 to more than 300 participants per week.

GGI selected SilverSneakers because it appeals to people who want to improve or maintain their health and fitness, and provides an encouraging environment in which to do so.

"Senior fitness is a huge priority for us," insists Dave Reiseman, the director of communications for GGI.

The class, which includes both chair-based and standing exercises, incorporates cardio, stretching, and strength training with bands, weights, and balls. The workout concludes with a relaxation exercise.

Assuming an Active Role

Active Living Every Day (ALED), an innovative exercise-based program, is offered by 108 licensed facilitators, including health clubs. It was developed in 2003 by the Cooper Institute in collaboration with Human Kinetics to assist people in overcoming barriers to physical activity in order to incorporate exercise into their daily routines.

Participants attend weekly 60-90-minute sessions, each of which addresses a behavior-change strategy. At the end of each session, they're given an assignment, such as fitting in short walks during the week. The class can be offered one-on-one or to a group of up to 20 people. While the program isn't exclusively for seniors, approximately 60% of the 11,000 people who've completed it, to date, have been over the age of 50.

"Instead of prescribing a specific type of activity, ALED helps participants find activities they enjoy and, thus, can become a practical part of their long-term lifestyle," explains Michelle Maloney, an implementation specialist at Human Kinetics.

Lesley Mahoney is a contributing editor for CBI and can be reached at [email protected]