Feature Article - March 2012
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Fit for All Ages

Reaching New Demographics Through Targeted Fitness Programming

By Chris Gelbach

According to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, fewer than two of 10 Americans get the recommended levels of exercise, and more than a quarter of Americans don't exercise at all.

For the managers of fitness clubs, park districts and other facilities, these statistics represent both a formidable challenge and a growing opportunity. Across the nation, as facility managers modify their fitness programming to get more people working out, an integral component of this effort is the creation of more programming aimed at specific demographics.

In fact, a recent survey of more than 2,600 fitness professionals conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) predicted that fitness programming for older adults and programs for children aimed at tackling childhood obesity would be among the top fitness trends for 2012.

This kind of targeted demographic programming can help facilities reach untapped markets while also helping to maximize facility use during downtimes in existing program schedules. At the same time, by better addressing the needs and interests of these different groups, these programs can also contribute to the larger goal of creating healthier communities.

Fitness for Kids

Over the past several years, kids' fitness has become a growing priority for facility programmers. One reason is the alarming rise in childhood obesity, which has more than tripled over the past 30 years. Today, more than one-third of American children are overweight or obese. As a result, parents are looking for opportunities for their children to be active in an environment where budget cuts have reduced or cut physical education in many schools. And the fitness industry, which has had little success getting inactive adults to change their ways, sees new opportunity in this younger generation.

"There's been a lot of talk in the fitness industry in the last several years about the industry as a whole missing the boat and not getting those 80 percenters to begin exercising," said Neal I. Pire, president of InsPIRE Training Systems and a fellow of the ACSM. Pire notes that the industry is trying to change that, and has been focused on kids' fitness as a way to do so. "If you can't broaden your current market, create a new market," he said.

In creating new kids' programs, facilities are targeting children of all ages with their programming—even infants and toddlers. Both the Chicago Park District and Portland Parks & Recreation, for instance, include parent and infant yoga in their program offerings. And Portland has found that including programming for younger children is a great way to maximize the use of their facilities.

"It often rains here in the winter, so we have different preschool baby gym and open gym times so parents can bring their toddlers and youngsters in to socialize and get some activity," said Sue Glenn, manager of the North Zone for Portland Parks & Recreation.