Despite the exhaustive research that proves the endless benefits of regular activity exist, an astounding 50% to 60% of adults are still inactive. Even in the midst of today's continual health and fitness education, this message on physical activity seems to not be making an impact on more than half of our consumers. But for those who are active and in their 30s or younger, exercising is done more for results that are largely aesthetic. It seems the ability to fit in that vacation swimsuit or last year's pair of pants reigns supreme. Conversely, the older adult exercises for tomorrow's ability to function as they could yesterday. While these groups of adults look towards physical activity to gain different results, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports defines two impactful facts about their fitness:

  1. Inactivity increases with age. By age 75, about one in three men and one in two women engage in no physical activity.
  2. Social support from family and friends has been consistently and positively related to regular physical activity. 

            Consumers and fitness professionals alike conceptually link fitness resources to commercial or corporate clubs. If a facility is not available at the workplace, one is possibly available to or from it. Moreover, commercial operators have leveraged employer health responsibilities and significantly increased their focus on group discounts over the last few years. In fact, chains, such as 24 Hour Fitness and Life Time Fitness, are introducing corporate wellness services, including health coaching, seminars and benefits advice. However, the constant rise in health care costs, to an alarming $2.2 trillion in 2006, suggests that corporate programs and commercial facilities are not enough. As a result, active adult residential communities are gaining momentum as another consumer resource. Far from a new idea, active adult developments have existed since the 1960s but have been on a significant rise since 2000.   


The Emergence of Active Adult Developments

            In a 2006 study by J.D. Power and Associates, 34 primary development firms exist across the US. Leading this list is Del Webb communities. Originating in the Phoenix area, this now Pulte product (following its acquisition a few years ago) is in a significant growth mode throughout the country. With sometimes large on-site fitness centers, walking tracks and even a golf course, active communities are a haven for fitness-focused consumers. Not by definition, but by trend, "active adult" has traditionally been directed at those consumers who are 55 or older. One reason for this is that with more amenities comes a slightly higher price point for the community property. Traditionally, the baby boomer has had more discretionary income to spend on such conveniences. However, the reality is that these communities are not solely focused on seniors. As generation X continually establishes itself as a family-focused generation, the importance of well-rounded residential services also grows in importance.  

            Master plan builders are realizing that today's adult is positioned to reach retirement at a more moderate or early age, and to do so, avenues for lifestyle living are increasingly important. These active adult communities provide an integrated resource for residents to live healthier and more productively than ever before. In fact, the growth of this trend can be seen through the Cooper Aerobic Center and its development of the Cooper Life community in McKinney, Texas. With a 75,000 square foot commercial club, TPC golf course and club, preventive medicine clinic and full-scale concierge services all rolled into annual home owners' dues, Cooper Life is positioned to attract the top six percent to 10% of the active adult consumer.


Capitalizing on this Growing Market

            For the experienced and skilled fitness trainer, these environments present a similarly beneficial opportunity. For those individuals who are not behaviorally ready to make consistent health choices, meeting these folks where they literally live is imperative. One of the most important factors in reaching these clients is the ability to reach them where they are comfortable. In fact, a significant barrier to club membership growth by the unfit is a sense of intimidation. Therefore, the member's sense of belonging should be first addressed before prescription occurs. More and more, housing communities are focusing on this demanding market. And so should you. Due to the fact that active adult communities attract individuals seeking a healthy lifestyle and the services necessary to maintain physical well-being, a tremendous opportunity awaits fitness trainers. Also, many of these developments provide social clubs and events that seek to engage their residents and keep them socially comfortable as well.

            Consider these recommendations if you are considering this market:

  • Research the community developers listed in the J.D. Power and Associates study referenced earlier in this article (see fitness fact).
  • Visit the communities, and get to know their amenities and services. Try to see opportunities that someone of your skill set can fill.
  • Always present your intentions to the community management person(s) before approaching individual residents. Especially with the older population, community management is considered the "gate keepers" of their resident group.
  • Because active communities do tend to attract the older adult population, understand that the social aspect of your sessions is as important as the actual exercise prescription. 

            All of the costs of the amenities and services are rolled into the monthly or annual home owners' dues. Changing these dues is difficult and must go through a community committee. If you do get involved with an active community, your services will likely be on a contractor basis and between you and the resident. Therefore, have a personal business plan in mind for the value-add of your time for their residents. Likewise, have your personal liability insurance up to date along with some form of marketing, such as business cards, single-sheet fliers or a professional resume with listings of your experience and reference client list.

            As more of these communities emerge and as more adults (including the generations of baby boomers and X) begin to be more concerned with their own fitness, the opportunities for fitness professionals will exponentially grow. Tailoring your fitness services and marketing to these target markets as well as the active adult communities will not only open the door to these new opportunities but will also grow the profit margins for yourself and your business.

             David Atkinson is the executive director of Cooper Ventures and the VP of Cooper Aerobic Enterprises, Inc. For more info on his commercial club and worksite wellness consulting services, visit


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