As a club owner, manager or other staff member, have you ever wondered what seniors look for in a health club? Obviously, with the growing older adult population, this should be a concern for your facility.

I have been a group exercise instructor for 14 years and have specialized solely in senior fitness for the past several years. I am always particularly interested in how well clubs are meeting the needs of their older adult clientele. Recently, I sat down with a group of the seniors from our Senior Strength class at the Libertyville Centre Club to discuss what is important to them in a health club setting.

Affordability and Location

Many of the older members are living on a fixed income, so price was a consideration for them. Many older adults find a senior membership discount to be helpful. Also, being a short drive from home was a big plus for many. Moreover, senior group exercise class times that coincide with lighter traffic hours are appreciated by the older adults. For those who rely on public transportation, the proximity of the health club to a bus line is a consideration.

Sense of Belonging

Everyone in the group agreed that what has kept them coming to the club � more than anything else � has been the feeling of belonging they experience there. That feeling, they say, starts from the moment they walk in the door and are greeted by name by the friendly front desk staff.

As one of the seniors stated, �The staff at our club understands that we are here for many things, only some of which pertain to our physical health. We�re here as much to get out of the house and talk as we are to do our bodies good.� The group agreed wholeheartedly. As class participant, Pat explained, �For many of us, this time at the club may be the only point during the day when we have social contact, so this time is extremely important to us.�

The seniors also indicated that they appreciate when the instructor makes the effort to introduce a new attendee in class in order to make that person feel welcome. They contend that the instructor sets the level of comfort, openness and friendliness in the class.

A Place to Meet

The seniors enjoy having a place to congregate after class. In the case of our club, the location of choice is the deli where the seniors frequently converse over iced teas and coffees. They also appreciate flexibility in their instructors in allowing them �bonus� visiting time. For instance, the senior group at our club particularly enjoys a few-minute break in the middle of class, during which time they gather around the water fountain and visit. Everyone welcomes any additional opportunities to socialize.

The seniors, like all of us, appreciate a sense of personal touch and cleanliness in their environment. They value the time and care, for instance, that a dedicated front desk person puts into keeping the plants and decor in beautiful condition. They also appreciate seeing the club�s general manager moving about to check on things throughout the club � everything from the safety of the ladies in the therapy pool to the temperature of the water in the �big� pool to classes in session, just to be sure all is well.

Like Minds

Another aspect of the desire to �belong� is that these health-minded seniors enjoy the company of other similar thinkers. As senior class participant Jean Wilson pointed out, �I have noticed that the active older adults who take the time to care for themselves physically, mentally and emotionally through exercise are all positive thinkers.�

As one of their instructors, I have seen how their motivation, in turn, inspires those around them. Jean�s husband Norland is a perfect example of such inspiration. About a year and a half ago, Norland, a retired teacher with a wonderful sense of humor, suffered a stroke, which has slowed him down considerably. Norland isn�t one to just take things lying down. He continues to come to the club five times per week to walk the track and attend the stretching portion of our class. Not a week passes when we do not marvel aloud at Norland�s dedication to caring for himself and maintaining his social ties at the health club. Norland�s and Jean�s persistence and continued personal motivation has been an inspiration to everyone at the club � young and old.

Senior Class Programming

Older adults understand that their bodies perform differently than when they were 20 or 30 years younger. Their needs are specific, and they want to see programming offered that is custom-designed for them.

Although some of the seniors do attend a mix of general population classes and those �designated for� seniors, those participating in our discussion all strongly conveyed that it is important to them that their club offer classes specifically for seniors. It is also critical that the club�s instructors and personal trainers are trained in senior exercise, they all agreed.

One thing for instructors to be cognizant of, warned a couple of the seniors, is that �we all don�t like the same kind of music!� They say that instructors should explore using different musical styles: disco, show tunes, classical, 50s music, etc. One member offered, �We�d much prefer variety than work out to �the oldies� every class!�

Also, most of the seniors in the discussion group indicated that they appreciate having the opportunity to get their workout in around mid-morning � not so early that they need to get up at the crack of dawn but early enough to not break up their day. Most agreed that mid-morning (from 9:00 AM on) to early afternoon were ideal class times for them.

Other Perks

Having emergency services readily available or easily accessible � and having a well-trained staff that knows how to handle an emergency � give older adults a feeling of comfort (As a point of interest, at our hospital-based facility, one gentleman at the club suffered a stroke while riding on a stationary bike and literally fell right onto the cardiologist riding on the bike next to him. True story! As I�m sure you�re wondering, both the man who had the stroke and the cardiologist fared well at the end of the day). Other perks that the seniors find beneficial include a deli with healthy snack options, a warm aqua therapy pool, a physical therapy rehab center on-site and massage therapy.

In summary, the following are the most important points that the group brought up in attracting and keeping the senior exerciser:

� Affordability

� Location and accessibility

� A sense of belonging and warmth

� A gathering place for socializing

� Senior class programming at convenient times of day

In talking with �my� seniors, it seemed that the most key ingredient to their satisfaction with their health club is feeling that they belong at their club. They say that this comes from the entire staff � and, as one of their instructors, I would argue that it�s a closeness that they create among themselves, as well. Much to my benefit, they have cast their web of closeness and belonging around me, too, and I can tell you that I do not intend to ever leave teaching seniors and return to teaching general population classes.

Clubs should work diligently to attract and maintain their senior clientele. Not only is it a rapidly growing population, it�s also a group that brings something very special to our facilities. I�ll take a day with my seniors at the club anytime!

Lisa Ackerman is a Chicagoland-based fitness freelance writer, public relations and media communications specialist and group exercise instructor. Contact her at 847.367.8125 or ackerpeople@sbcglobal.net.

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