onsidering more than half of the
current older adult population in the United States needs guidance and motivation when it comes to exercise, it’s puzzling that more professional fitness trainers have not yet capitalized on this enormous pool of new clients.
By targeting your fitness know-how and education services on this expanding market, you can increase the size of both your client base and your pocketbook.
As fitness professionals, we understand that we can reap the benefits of a physically active lifestyle well into our senior years. However, do average older adults know they can increase their quality of life simply by incorporating activity into their lifestyles? Do they know that it’s never too late to begin exercising? Do they know that, in fact, exercising will make them stronger, increase their endurance and make activities of daily life (ADL) easier to perform?
One of our jobs as trainers is to educate older adults on the impact of a healthy, active lifestyle. Besides, it would be foolish to ignore
as a powerful addition to our client bases.
The American population is getting older. By 2035, it is estimated that the senior population will include more than 70 million individuals, with persons 85 years and older the fastest growing segment.
Currently, 60 percent of adults older than 65 are classified as healthy, but unfit. These seniors live and function independently, but do not regularly participate in physical activity. Such lack of physical activity could have a detrimental effect on seniors’ health as they age, thereby reducing their quality of life. As Mary K. Swanson, founder, president and CEO of HealthCare Dimensions in Tempe, Arizona, says, “Exercise is the single most effective way to age healthy. It’s fundamental.”
Fundamental to working with older adults is understanding their needs and health and fitness objectives as opposed to those of a younger market. “Younger individuals want to look better, whereas seniors want to feel better,” says Swanson, whose company also delivers and manages SilverSneakers, a comprehensive, national fitness program designed to increase the health status of seniors. “Older adults are concerned with function and maintaining independence. Every movement in our program is designed specifically for the challenges older adults face.”
While younger clients may be concerned with more aesthetic goals, such as toned abdominals and bulging biceps, the older adult client is more concerned with ADL. “Motivations for exercise change as we age,” says Wayne T. Phillips, PhD, an assistant professor at Arizona State University who researches older adults and exercise. “Being able to move furniture, get in and out of the car and play with grandchildren are the highlights of many older adults’ lives, but hardly top the list for younger clients.”
Older adults are very inquisitive and question why they should exercise. As Jeannie Patton, director of education for Exercise Etc., an education and training certification program for fitness professionals in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, says, “Older adults are information seekers. In your marketing materials, give them information they can use. Share statistics on health benefits of exercise in terms of reducing
disease risk, increasing strength and stamina, maintaining/reducing body fat, and reducing depression and anxiety.” The more you can apply the benefits of exercise to your clients’ personal lives and ADL, the more you will attract and retain them as clients, and receive referrals.
Several national certifications and workshops are available (please see Resources box) for fitness professionals to learn the nuances of working with this specific population. To successfully train this population, you need to have the education to be able to modify exercises for an older adult who may have limitations or a chronic disease. In addition, acquiring and practicing the accurate motivational skills and techniques will result in a positive experience for both of you.
After gaining a clear understanding of older adults’ needs and objectives, the next step is to find your clientele. So, where can a trainer go to recruit older adults? Here are a few ideas:
Programming directors are always looking for innovative people to entertain and educate the seniors
in their programs. You can begin by volunteering at the facility. Perhaps you can spend one hour per week informing them of exercises they can do with elastic bands or using their own bodies as resistance.
Some facilities even have fitness equipment that sits unused. For a small fee, you can offer to conduct training sessions for the senior participants. After a while, you may find that many of them are inquiring about further services and are willing to hire you for more individualized workout sessions.
Contact the community manager and inquire about offering your personal training services at unstaffed facilities for residents who may want more exercise guidance.
At retirement communities that do not have fitness facilities, consider beginning a walking program for residents, perhaps leading strength training exercises using park benches and steps. If the facility has a pool, consider offering water fitness sessions.
Dependent and assisted living centers especially need experienced and knowledgeable fitness professionals to promote function and increase quality of life. Medical facility-based training has a huge advantage over health club memberships with the senior market. “In general, seniors in hospital-based programs demand more education and a higher level of certification from their exercise leaders,” Patton observes. “This is an important selling point to the senior market.”
Market yourself to these groups
by contacting event organizers and offering to hold free blood pressure screenings, body composition testing or functional assessments. Or you can deliver free lectures on various health and fitness topics. Conduct demonstrations of exercises seniors can do and bring some of your current senior clients along to help with the demonstration.
Now that you know where to recruit seniors, the next step is how.
Of course flyers, business cards and newsletters are the recommended
print media. Create your own newsletter about the benefits of exercise and working with a personal trainer, and distribute these in physicians’ offices.
When producing print media, use larger fonts (minimum of 14 point) and use light backgrounds with darker printing. Limit graphics and wordiness. Because of visual acuity problems, loss of depth perception and the lessened ability to distinguish color as we age, too many words, images and colors may blend together making your attractive flyer unreadable to the older adult. Display your marketing materials in places seniors frequent.
Use the local media to promote your services. Many television and radio stations are eager to communicate fitness topics to their viewers and listeners. Contact producers and pitch your idea of a segment on functional exercises for seniors. Consider being a
contributor to an already established newsletter or neighborhood newspaper. You will save money by writing for someone else’s publication rather than paying for printing costs yourself. You may be writing for free, but consider your advertising savings.
Offer free lectures on health and fitness topics, blood pressure screenings and health risk analyses at local events, community centers, retirement communities, shopping malls and grocery stores. Patton volunteered at many
local events and on charity boards to find clients. “My most successful
marketing strategy was making myself very visible to the senior community
by volunteering my time at assisted living centers and speaking to senior groups,” she explains. ‘
Your programming and services have
an impact on how marketable you are as a trainer. Seniors, just like any other population, appreciate thoughtfully planned activities. Be creative in your choices and approach. Incorporating fun music and equipment is just as important as your marketing plan to keep clients coming back and providing you with referrals.
Patton uses square dancing, line dances and unconventional equipment such as balloons, bean bags and cones to keep her exercise sessions fun and interesting. “I play peppy music and think of fun things to do. They never notice how hard they are working.”
Providing diverse services is essential to successful marketing. You can expand your senior market by offering your services at multiple venues and having
a wide range of fees.
Some seniors may not be able to travel to the local fitness center. Also, many seniors are on fixed incomes and cannot afford the added expense of an initiation fee and monthly membership dues at a local club. This is a perfect opportunity for your business to become mobile. Pack weights, tubing, a step and other small, easily transportable equipment in your car and travel door to door providing in-home training services.
Seniors may be more comfortable and less intimidated exercising in their own homes rather than in a gym. If in-home training is your primary source of business, consider marketing yourself as a functional trainer. Emphasize exercises in which seniors can use specific areas of their homes: stairs for step-ups or the kitchen counter for dips. They will readily understand how performing these exercises in their own homes applies to activities of their everyday lives.
A strong component of healthy aging is socialization. “Seniors view exercise as a social outlet—an opportunity to gather with friends,” shares Swanson. “At SilverSneakers, we promote ‘Fitness, Fun and Friends.’ We offer physical activity in a group environment while having fun!” Consider offering small-group training sessions for two to three people. Your clients will appreciate additional support and encouragement from the other participants. Also, small-group sessions can be more affordable for seniors since they can split the cost among the group.
Not only must you be knowledgeable about the inherent aging process and limitations that seniors with chronic disease may have, you also need to develop characteristics and interpersonal skills that are best suited to
working with older adults. Patience, empathy, trustworthiness and an understanding of the importance of socialization are essential.
“Social interaction must be an integral part of the program, with the exercise leader setting the stage by being friendly, upbeat, enthusiastic and caring,” says Patton. Seniors will think of their workout hour as a time to socialize with friends while exercising.
You may need to learn and expand on new skills to accommodate the needs of older adults. Lisa Garrity, education specialist and trainer for Fitness Express in San Diego says, “I get the majority of my older adult clients because I specialize in water fitness. They come to me to increase or maintain their fitness levels when they are suffering from arthritis or other orthopedic problems.”
Seniors are a diverse group of people. Some experience the pains and frustrations of disease and an aging body while others continue to run marathons. Because this population is so unique, creatively marketing your training services will aid in your success. If you remember that seniors desire to be treated with respect and as individuals, your training business will flourish.
So, how do you measure the success of your marketing plan? Customer satisfaction surveys and testimonials are great tools to identify weaknesses and/or strengths of your services. A questionnaire asking where and how clients heard of your services is a good measure of which marketing strategy is the strongest. However, the most flattering marketing strategy, and the best indicator of success, is word of mouth. Happy and satisfied clients refer their friends and family. Garrity agrees, “How do I define a successful marketing plan? Client retention year after year.” l
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The following organizations provide certifications and/or continuing education:
n American College of Sports Medicine, www.acsm.org, (317) 637-9200
n American Senior Fitness Association, www.seniorfitness.net, (800) 243-1478
n American Institute of Fitness Educators, www.aife.org, (800) 545-2262
n American Fitness Professionals & Associates, www.afpafitness.com, (609) 978-7583
n Arthritis Foundation, www.arthritis.org, (800) 283-7800
n The Cooper Institute, www.cooperinst.org, (972) 341-3200
n Fitness Educators of Active Adults, www.fitnesseducators.com, (800) 892-4772
n International Council on Active Aging, www.icaa.cc, (866) 335-9777
n World Instructor Training Schools, www.witseducation.com, (888) 330-9487
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Fees for training sessions depend on a number of factors: demographics, competition and client wealth, to name a few. So, fees can range anywhere from $15 per 30-minute session to $80 per hour for higher-end clients.
The overwhelming majority of fitness professionals currently working with seniors agree that no matter how much you charge, be prepared to work for free in the beginning as you market your services. The time you invest at the beginning to expose yourself can be time consuming, but can be more effective and less costly than other methods.
Consider offering discounts to seniors to begin attracting them to your business. Offer incentives to seniors willing to purchase training sessions during your down time. Every trainer has down time: right between the early morning rush and the lunch hour and right before the evening people. What to do with those couple hours? Most retired seniors have time available during these unfilled slots. Consider lowering your rates during these slow hours to accommodate seniors.
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American College of Sports Medicine. 1998. Position stand: Exercise and physical activity for older adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 30, 992-1008.
Spirduso, W.W. 1995. Issues of quantity and quality
of life. Physical Dimensions of Aging. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics.
U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1982. America in transition: An aging society. Current Population Reports Series. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
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