Much attention is focused on baby boomers and their fitness and wellness needs, as they are the first generation of Americans who have grown up exercising. In fact, boomers are joining health clubs at phenomenal rates, up 135% between 1987 and 2001, according to American Sports Data, Inc. Similarly, active seniors, the population beyond the boomers, are staying active longer and looking to maintain their fitness levels to ensure mobility, independence and their quality of life.
Increased participation along with an aging musculoskeletal system leads to increased injuries. Between 1991 and 1998, sports-related injuries among boomers increased about 33%. And in 1998, boomers suffered more than one million sports injuries, which amounted to nearly $19 billion in medial costs. The most common type of injury seen in this population is overuse injuries, which is the result of years of stress on the musculoskeletal system. Often referred to as "boomeritis," these injuries commonly include tendonitis, bursitis and recurring symptoms from previous sports-related injuries, which have created musculoskeletal "weak links." Most often, these weak links involve the knees, shoulders and lower back. Considering seniors, the physiological changes that occur with aging make the active senior more susceptible to musculoskeletal injuries and arthritis-related conditions. Muscle weakness due to the loss of lean muscle mass, loss of bone mineral density and decreased balance all contribute to increased injuries. The knees, hips, shoulders and lower back are again most commonly involved. The incidence of arthritis in this population also contributes to injury. For example, knee arthritis causes weaknesses in the muscles surrounding the joint and an altered proprioception (proprioception is the innate sense of where your body parts are and how they're positioned). Reduced proprioception leads to poor balance and contributes to falls, which, of course, lead to injury.
The key to successful fitness programming for boomers and seniors is customization! Standard, routine fitness programs may work for clients in their twenties, but not for these age groups. Fitness programs must be customized with the goals of preventing new injuries, stopping the progression of old injuries and increasing fitness levels. The key components of a customized fitness program are core body conditioning, dynamic balance training, recognizing weak links and modifying activities, emphasizing integrated links and making lifestyle changes.
Core body conditioning is essential in providing trunk strength for total body stability. It contributes to improved balance a key component in preventing injury. Core body exercises emphasize the integration of the body functioning as whole, rather than as individual parts, a key component to efficient movement both during exercise and in daily living. This conditioning typically involves working with an exercise ball and includes stretching, upper-body, lower-body, abdominal, trunk and balance exercises.
Dynamic balance training is extremely important and increasingly emphasized as a key component of a customized fitness program. Improved balance has been shown to decrease falls and prevent injuries in the senior population. It has also been shown to help people who suffer from arthritis in their feet, as these clients typically have an altered gait, which compromises balance and stability. Balance training definitely improves proprioception a key factor in injury prevention. Balance training can best be accomplished by performing exercises using a manufactured balance training device. In addition, core body exercises that specifically focus on balance will complement these exercises.
Recognizing weak links and modifying activities is essential in preventing re-injury. Common modifications include: using lighter resistance and more repetitions when performing strengthening exercises with rubber tubing/bands to provide variable resistances; incorporating non-weight bearing exercises such as cycling and swimming; cross-training to better balance exercise stresses on the body; and decreasing exercise frequency to three to five days per week rather than every day.
Emphasizing integrated links can be accomplished by utilizing closed chain exercises. These exercises incorporate multiple body parts in one movement and condition the body as a whole as it normally and naturally functions. A common example of a closed chain exercise is the push-up. Functional training also incorporates integrated links by conditioning the body in the actual activity that the individual is training for or participating in.
Lifestyle changes are essential to maximizing fitness development at any age, but especially in boomers and seniors as weight gain and physical body changes can be a natural evolution of aging and common in these populations. They include improving diet and nutrition, maintaining appropriate body weight and considering supplements carefully and in consultation with a physician.
Marketing to Boomers and Seniors
Customization is the key marketing tag line for these populations. Such customized fitness plans may be incorporated into existing performance enhancement programs that typically target the athletic population, which emphasize speed, agility and strength. Performance enhancement is not limited to just this population and is a term that can be applied to all age groups. Therefore, performance enhancement, which emphasizes program customization, is also attractive to boomers and seniors.
Also, a program of post-discharge rehabilitation is effective with these populations. Often times following surgery, active individuals have not attained their pre-injury functional levels, yet their third-party payer therapy visits have all been utilized. Post-discharge rehab allows for individuals to obtain additional therapy on a cash basis to regain their full functional level. These programs can be marketed directly to local physician practice groups, specifically orthopaedic surgeon groups, emphasizing the expertise of your staff in achieving excellent outcomes.
Marketing to Local Physicians
Physicians are recognizing the value of fitness and wellness for their patients in achieving quality outcomes. Marketing your programs directly to local physician groups is an excellent strategy for relationship building and developing a network of referrals throughout the community. Customized fitness programs, performance enhancement and especially post-discharge rehab are all programs that physicians value. Orthopaedic surgeon groups, family practice and internal medicine physicians are the best specialties to target. Focus on those physicians within a 20-minute drive from your facility. Prepare marketing materials that clearly identify the specific fitness and wellness needs of boomers and seniors. Highlight the expertise of your staff, and give examples of successful outcomes using client profiles and personal success stories. Also, invite physicians to come to your facility, and offer free passes or limited memberships. Community open houses for local health care providers are also beneficial.
Marjorie J. Albohm is a certified athletic trainer and serves on the National Athletic Trainers' Association Board of Directors. For more information, visit www.nata.org.