Gymnasiums, Early Hours, and Empty Nesters



Empty nesters are a unique group. We all know who these people are: folks who spent the last 20%20 years of their lives raising their children, who are now experiencing life without the responsibilities of their kids living under their roof. Like many parents, Empty Nesters put their growing children first, and found themselves getting less and less physical activity, while supporting their children’s activities and interests. But now with the children gone, Empty Nesters, while still working full-time, have the opportunity to re-engage in the activities and sports they enjoyed years ago. They also make a great group to bring into a gymnasium at 6 a.m.

The Y took a unique approach to re-engage Nesters in physical activity and help them meet the PA guidelines. We looked at many theories of change, and created a program framework specifically for Empty Nesters to encourage their renewed interest in their own health and their pursuit of fitness. This framework and unique approach includes: establishing the feelings of support in a group setting, being active with people similar to each other, and recognizing the competence and skill each person gains while being more active.

The program framework that the Y created to help Nesters meet the PA guidelines looks like this:

  1. Program focuses on activities or sports that Nesters participated in when they were younger (a “re-Beginner” instead of “new” Beginner).
  2. Participants were recruited by age, re-beginner status and physical condition.
  3. Two staff led the program – one as the “coach” and the other asthe “facilitator.”
  4. The facilitator’s responsibility is to build group unity, create a sense of belonging, help in individual goal setting, and recognize group and individual achievement.
  5. The coach’s responsibility is to lead the physical activity (be it dance, basketball, cycling, etc.) at a level that is safe and appropriate to the group’s skill and physical activity, while keeping the class fun and inspirational. Both the coach and the facilitator mirror the participant’s age, life experiences, etc. as much as possible.
  6. The program plan is to transition the group to be self-supporting.

This framework has resulted in some pretty interesting groups, including a dozen “slightly” obese, 50-55 year old ex-high school basketball stars, doing 60 minutes of basic ball handling drills, conditioning exercises, and half court games at 6 a.m., to a like-group of female ex-dancers, re-learning ballet routines, while also hitting the weight room. This works too for just about any activity many of us may have played as kids or in high school.

This framework is bringing attention to the PA guidelines, giving coaches, facilitators, and Nesters the ability to be creative in designing activities that meet the PA guidelines, and are fun to them.

Would this framework work in other settings, or with other groups?

Could you be a coach or facilitator yourself, and bring the PA guidelines to life in yet another group of re-Beginners?

What might you add?