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Most gyms still clueless about seniors

The golden years can be golden for business.
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

It doesn’t make sense. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 56,986,401 people in this country over the age of 60 in 2010 with 75,813,321 projected by 2020. This means that adults over the age of 60 represent more than 18 per cent of the entire U.S. population – almost 24 per cent by 2020.

Yet a recent poll – “Boomers and Fitness” – in the April edition of the AARP Bulletin indicates that only 16 per cent of older adults are members of a health/fitness club. More disturbing is that only 18 per cent even consider physical exercise a major priority while 32 per cent do not consider it a priority at all!

The International Health, Recreation, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) – the largest health club trade organization in the world – claims that there are 30,500 health clubs in the U.S. as of 2012, which includes personal training studios, gyms, fitness centers, athletic clubs, and the like. Yet, the vast majority of those clubs continue to market to the younger population.

According to Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging (ICAA), nearly 50% of the US population is ignored by marketers. The fact is,” says Milner, “that Boomers and their parents will represent one out of every two US consumers, by the year 2017. This group currently spends over 7 trillion dollars, 46% of American’s current GDP, each year. They are 47 times richer than their younger counterparts, and will account for 70% of discretionary income in the United States, by the year 2017. Yet, 95% of all US marketing dollars are spent on adults 35 and younger.”

Yes, there are some gyms that provide excellent programs and facilities for older adults, but they are in a considerable minority. The vast majority of gyms only provide lip service to seniors as evidenced by their signs, print ads, flyers, billboards, and direct mail pieces promoting the stereotypical buxom bikini-clad girl and her muscular male counterpart. They have been promoting this same message for decades, oblivious to the graying of society. They seldom hire mature employees as managers, trainers, membership counselors, or even front desk staff either.

As a group, seniors have more money and more leisure time than any other single segment of the population. They also have a greater need for fitness to maintain a quality of life in their golden years, and they are less transient than any other age group which can have a significant impact on attrition.

Gyms that focus only on youth are really missing the boat by disregarding the older population. The numbers don’t lie.

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