Promoting Physical Activity to Boomers: The Y’s PressPlay Program



How might an average Boomer summarize his attitude towards starting a new physical activity program? I doubt you’d hear, “No pain, no gain,” but probably something more like, “My mind says GO, but my body says NO.” Much has been written about Boomers’ need for physical activity, but what can we – as health, wellness, and fitness professionals – do to make sure this age group actually meets the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommendations?

In the Y, we’ve created a program called PressPlay, which is targeted specifically for Boomers and is based on the principles of 1) Autonomy, 2) Competence, 3) Relatedness, and 4) Connectedness. By incorporating these principles, we have found that Boomers have been able to work their way up to meeting the recommended levels of physical activity (2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate activity each week) while having fun in a safe, supportive environment. And the beauty of PressPlay is that it isn’t specific to just a certain sport or activity. Here’s what it is all about.

Autonomy: PressPlay reinforces to participants that they are in control of their lives and that the choices they make about their health are indeed their own. Participants are challenged, but not pushed, to make healthy choices about their physical activity levels, and over time, they feel empowered to make these healthy choices. “I am capable of making good choices about my health, physical activity, and well-being.”

Competence: PressPlay focuses on developmentally appropriate skill instruction and practice so that participants are indeed competent at some aspect of their chosen activity. In some cases, participants learn sport- or exercise-specific skills, and in other instances they learn how to use technology to enhance their physical activity experiences. “I’m good at this.”

Relatedness: PressPlay is facilitated to create strong feelings of affinity among the Boomers participating. When surrounded by other Boomers who share similar life experiences and are also entering the same stage in life (Empty Nest, or Retirement, etc.), PressPlay participants find new friends and want to be around the group of like people. “People around me are like me.”

Connectedness: PressPlay facilitators and instructors spend time during every class connecting participants with each other and creating bonds of friendships. The relationships that are formed become a motivator for regular participation in the selected activity. “I like the people in the class, and they like me.”

When people are in control of their decisions and actually see that they are getting good at something, and feel connected or bonded to people like them, their participation in the activity that brought them all together becomes a joyful habit. Instead of a workout, their physical activity becomes fun, playful, and joyous. And over time, they can meet the Physical Activity Guidelines recommendations for overall health and wellness.

PressPlay isn’t for everyone, but in the Y, we’ve found that applying these principles when working with Boomers in particular, leads to regular and long-lasting participation in our classes.

What principles are guiding your physical activity programs for Boomers so they meet the Physical Activity Guidelines?

How might you incorporate autonomy, competence, relatedness or connectedness into your Boomer programs?