An An aging expert predicts how the boomers will change the face of senior fitness—and how the fitness industry will change in response.
Baby boomers are turning 65, and millions of people are also turning 50. “We’re looking at a huge market that includes people ages 50 to 100 and beyond,” says Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging. “While there’s bound to be some segmentation, certain values, principles, and social-economic forces are converging to the point where we can make some predictions for the market as a whole.”
On the horizon…
- More wellness programs. Wellness is exploding. The field has grown exponentially in the past five years and is projected to continue doing so. Wellness programs targeted for older adults are growing in number.
- More wellness professionals. “We’ll see more exercise physiologists, sports medicine professionals, chiropractors, orthopedists, naturopaths, and physical therapists on the staff of wellness programs,” predicts Milner.
- Convergence of rehabilitation and wellness. Preventing functional decline is a goal of wellness; rehabilitation helps return people to optimal function. “After the common cold, sports injuries are the #2 reason boomers visit their doctors. As boomers work to stay fit, many of them will also be working with rehab professionals,” Milner notes.
- Rejection of stereotypes of aging. “We’ll see greater diversity in portrayals of aging and greater achievements by older adults,” Milner says. “Because of sheer numbers alone, companies will be focusing more on this demographic. To be successful, they will have to change their perceptions of what aging means and what older adults want.”
- Increase in energy-boosting solutions. Milner says, “The industry will focus on overcoming the paradox identified by researchers a few years back: 69 percent of older adults exercise to increase their energy level—yet lack of energy is consistently put forth as a barrier to exercise.” This opens the door to an array of programs aimed at boosting energy, from exercise to chronic health issue support services.
- Redefinition of “retirement.” Many workers over 55 are staying on the job not for the money, but because they want to continue feeling useful and productive. This trend suggests that organizations should provide health management, fitness, and wellness programs to help keep older adults as productive as possible for as long as possible.
- Technology, technology, technology. “Moving beyond the Wii, we’ll see everything from immersive games for lifelong learning and participation in social causes to more sophisticated ‘brain games’ and assistive devices that extend function into and through the later years of life,” says Milner. “We’ll also see more innovative technologies in support of aging in place, including e-health technologies and social media.”
- Reengineering of industries to accommodate a healthier older adult market. “We’ll see an upsurge in wellness centers, housing, parks and recreation projects that will require new approaches by architects, developers, builders, suppliers and program-management professionals,” Milner predicts.
- Growth of “green exercise” and green communities. Research has shown that five minutes of exercise in a park, working in garden, or in another green space benefits self-esteem and mood. Boomers are also fueling a new era of social responsibility and environmental stewardship. Hiking, trail walks, meditation gardens, labyrinths, cycling paths, gardening, and ecotourism will flourish going forward.
- More age-friendly cities. In its push for the continued creation of environments that foster social inclusion and social participation, the World Health Organization stresses, “Active aging is a lifelong process. An age-friendly city is not just ‘elderly friendly.’ “Milner agrees: “If we view active aging as a process that begins at birth and continues throughout the lifespan, then this initiative can only continue to grow.”
Sources: The International Council on Active Aging (www.icaa.cc), headquartered in Vancouver, BC, is the world’s largest membership association dedicated to changing the way we age by uniting and working with professionals in the retirement, assisted living, recreation, fitness, rehabilitation and wellness fields.
Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge, © IlluminAge 2013