March 31, 2010
Over the last 28 years, I have presented hundreds of seminars on how fitness facilities can attract older adults. At almost every presentation, someone asks, "Do older adults prefer to work out with people their own age or with younger people?"
This question has always created great debate. However, the answer may be found in research done by Mark Beauchamp, an assistant professor in the School of Human Kinetics at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Beauchamp and his colleagues found that "although older adults may report a lack of appeal for exercising with those much younger than themselves, they actually exhibit a positive preference for exercising with those of their own age."
The study, which appeared in the April issue of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, provides "useful insight into the preferences of older exercisers, which in turn have important implications for exercise promotion initiatives [in communities around the world]," he writes.
Could this research be one of the reasons we have not seen the predicted flood of older adults into fitness facilities? Could it be why a class filled with 20- and 30-year-olds has little appeal to those over the age of 50? Could it be why a facility that uses youth-oriented advertising misses out on a substantial number of older adults versus a facility that uses age-appropriate advertising? Could it be why manufacturers that build products that are suited to the younger market are missing the boat?
In reality, this research isn't news to those facilities that are already meeting the needs of older adults. Considering the fact that older adults are turned off by marketing that is focused on the younger generation, why would older adults not be turned off by facilities and programs that have that focus, too? It is simply the first rule of running a business - speak to the consumer and his or her needs.
What this research shows is that many older adults prefer to be in an environment with their peers. Yes, some elite, older athletes and fit adults may wish to exercise around those of similar fitness levels to themselves - young or old - but for the vast majority, they want to be around people they can relate to and people who are at the same stage of life.
What are you doing with your peer to peer programs?