Active Aging

10 Trends Changing the Face of the Fitness Industry

By The International Council on Active Aging

According to the Pew Research Center, every day beginning Jan. 1, 2011, and lasting for 19 years, 10,000 baby boomers will reach retirement age. More than one-quarter of the U.S. population—26 percent—are baby boomers, and as this cohort ages, it dramatically changes the way the country looks. By 2030, the Pew Research Center states, 18 percent of the country will be at least 65 years old—a jump from 13 percent in 2011. Add in those who are 50-plus, and you're talking about a huge slice of the population.

This aging of the population will have a dramatic effect on all industries, and fitness and recreation are no exception.

"The fitness industry as we've known it is evolving, and everyone involved—from owners and managers to instructors to product designers to sales people—needs to be aware of this shift and the opportunities a burgeoning 50-plus market will create," said Colin Milner, founder and CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA).

Milner, who recently returned from keynoting the World Congress on Active Aging in the United Kingdom, urges industry stakeholders in North America to pay attention to the following trends to ensure their businesses thrive now and in the future.

1. New rationale for exercising regularly.

"Today, health equals wealth—a concept that is changing the reasons people exercise," Milner said. "Getting fit for fitness' sake or to look a certain way has low appeal for 50-plus individuals. Better reasons include improving quality of life and the ability to function optimally, lowering healthcare costs, and building the health and stamina needed to work, care for family members and enjoy themselves."

2. New emphasis on lifespan fitness.

"Targeting the 19-to-45-year-old demographic—which most health clubs do today--ignores more than half the population," Milner said. "We need more centers, equipment and programs that are suitable for all ages and address the needs of everyone, throughout their lifespan."

3. Life coach as agent for change.

The life coaching industry is poised to "flourish," Milner said, and it's not just about helping people get new jobs. "Managing the whole constellation of factors involved with 'what's next' for an older person—travel, financial, health status, needs and desires—requires unique training and skills. Properly trained and experienced life coaches will help prepare their clients for a vibrant future, at any age."

4. Rebranding fitness as 'unique,' 'engaging.'

The current brand of fitness has remained relatively constant over the past decade, according to Milner. "The reality is that the current model serves a small percentage of the population—for the rest of the population, obesity and multiple chronic health conditions statistics continue to increase."

To attract these groups, the industry needs to become more client-focused, creating "unique experiences and customized programming—for example, shorter classes for certain activities and choices that go beyond aerobics and total-body workouts," Milner said. "People are looking for activities specifically geared to helping them function better in the real world."

5. Comprehensive energy-boosting solutions.

"Everyone complains about lack of energy. We need to present workable solutions, not just a quick caffeine fix," Milner said. "Programs that target the whole lifestyle—work hours, social participation, nutrition, sleep, stress and chronic health issues as well as fitness status—will be most effective."

6. Wellness, wellness, wellness.

"Physical activity is just one of the seven dimensions of wellness. It's important, but needs to be delivered in a larger context," Milner observed. "The fitness industry should start connecting the dots by educating its instructors on the interplay among the physical, social, emotional, environmental, vocational, intellectual and spiritual dimensions, and creating quieter, friendlier environments conducive to making those connections."

7. More mind-body programming.

"Along with a wellness philosophy, fitness centers should understand and embrace more mind-body programming that emphasizes the value of not being in constant motion," Milner said. "Rather than focusing solely on burning calories, programs should also teach participants how to really 'listen to their bodies' and become more aware of how to initiate slower, more deliberate and functional movements with good form. Think meditation and meditation gardens, tai chi and other mind-body offerings."

8. Technology to support wellness outcomes.

"The idea that 50-plus consumers are technophobes is a myth," Milner stressed. "There is huge room for growth in technologies that facilitate self-assessments, automated messaging and reminders, and outcomes data for organizations that offer such tools to their members."

9. Green exercise and equipment.

"Multigenerational playgrounds and wellness parks are manifestations of an emerging trend toward green exercise," Milner stated. "The benefits of outdoor play have been well documented for people of all ages. Similarly, green equipment—walking trails, gardens and water—support exploration of the environment, as well as providing physical challenges that can improve fitness."

10. Active aging provides policy framework.

"Active aging is not a buzz term; it is a policy framework recommendation from the World Health Organization that has been implemented in many regions of the world, including Europe and parts of Asia," Milner observed. "Agencies, governments and other stakeholders in North America are stepping up to the plate and making active aging a priority. As momentum continues to grow, health clubs and fitness centers are perfectly situated to benefit by embracing the concept—thereby gaining a clear advantage over companies that haven't yet started to do so."

The International Council on Active Aging is the professional association that leads, connects and defines the active-aging industry. ICAA supports professionals who develop wellness facilities, programs and services for adults over 50. The association is focused on active aging—an approach to aging that helps older adults live as fully as possible within all dimensions of wellness, and provides its members with education, information, resources and tools. For more information, visit

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