Be Active Your Way Blog
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Melissa Merson is the Executive Director of the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA). NCPPA is the leading force in the country promoting physical activity and fitness initiatives. We are a diverse blend of associations, health organizations, and private corporations advocating for policies that encourage Americans of all ages to become more physically active. Melissa has decades of experience as an innovative communications and government relations professional in Washington, DC. She also is involved in international sports governance for the Olympic sport of triathlon. Melissa is an accomplished triathlete and has competed in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. She is the founder and coach of the Arlington Triathlon Club, a school-based multi-sport training program for public school students. She has won numerous awards for innovative youth and sports development initiatives. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter bringing people interested in physical activity together all over the world.
It is easier in many ways to promote physical activities to middle-aged and older populations for a variety of reasons, but how well will they listen? If the messages are tailored precisely, they will listen very well, it turns out, despite the generation's somewhat skeptical demeanor.
Many seniors are turning attention to themselves after raising their children. Some may turn to physical activity because of medical advice to ward off chronic disease or for weight control. The effects of heart disease, asthma, diabetes, and a host of other conditions are mitigated by regular physical activity.
Others turn to physical activity to fill time or to engage socially with others after children have left home and there's more free time available. Retirement communities often market themselves as "active communities," advertising golf courses, tennis courts, a menu of aerobics, dance, yoga/pilates, and other classes that enable seniors to be physically and socially active at the same time.
Marketing to baby boomers, the World War II generation, and older seniors is good business. The wave of children born after that global conflict has been the major marketing influence at each age as they have moved through adolescence and the childbearing years of adulthood and now into their retirement years. We are only in the first few years of baby boomer retirement so the bulk of those born during those years have yet to receive their first retirement checks. As this generation marches inexorably towards their "golden" years, business marketing will be increasingly focused on tailoring their pitches to attract this cohort.
In a recent review of research by the American Association of Retired Person (AARP) into marketing to seniors, Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging, recommended that those who wish to market programs, services, etc. to the burgeoing seniors market do their homework first.
"[This] valuable research reinforces the need to do your homework before setting out on a communication campaign aimed at the mature market. Learn how to speak the language of older adults. Encourage them to be physically active four or more days per week at moderate intensity, and focus on your low-hanging fruit: the planners and tryers. Your success could depend on it." - Colin Milner
It is human nature to assertively press for individual choices as we age into the second half of our lives. While marketing gurus typically expect us to make economic choices based on how we identify with one sector or another of the consumer population, we humans self-diversify as we age. It becomes much harder for those who would wish to separate us from our dollars to predict accurately what car we'll buy or what beer we might drink based on our friends' choices. We just don't follow the pack the way we once did.
As boomers age, their marketing clout will be felt throughout the economy, and the fitness and wellness sectors won't be left out. Nearly one quarter of all fitness memberships belong to seniors, and more than 40% of hospital wellness center memberships, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). Successful marketing to this generation will become a business imperative for many.
AARP's research drilled down to determine what motivates seniors to engage in physical activity and what obstacles block them from participating. The research found broad differences between those who were retired and those who were not, as well as differences between those who are habitual exercisers already and those who are sedentary. According to Milner, "they found big differences in how specific words were interpeted: Exercise was viewed as hard and difficult while physical activity was not." Neither those who exercise not those who do not equated the words "physical activity" with exercise, which many thought was too hard and difficult.
AARP Triumph Triathlon Series Was Early National Model
In 2002, AARP was worried about the Surgeon General’s declaration that more than 60 percent of all adult Americans were overweight or obese, with the 50+ population representing the most sedentary and obese segment of the adult population. Looking at demographic data stating that 80 million people would turn 50 over the following decade, AARP launched the Triumph Classic, a mini (swim-bike-run) triathlon in cities across the country. The series – a 400-meter swim, 20k bike, and 6.2 mile run - grew from six to 15 races in one year, with support from the National Park Service. The final event featured more than 500 senior triathletes competing in a national championship event in - where else? - sunny Florida.
AARP and USA Triathlon, the national governing body for the sport, joined together to offer an 8 week multisport training program that was included as part of the $30 dollar race entry fee to help seniors prepare for the short triathlon event. The low cost and the AARP’s enormous potential for marketing the events around the country to its very own members. Triathlon has grown so extensively in the United States since then that nearly every race has its own senior “waves,” and special senior events no longer are needed.
SilverSneakers is a wildly popular physical activity program marketed by Healthways to various group retiree health plans nationwide or for those eligible for Medicare. Healthways is the largest independent global provider of well-being improvement solutions.
SilverSneakers is a multi-modal program that offers a fitness center membership that may be used at any participating fitness center, including YMCAs. Program benefits include access to fitnessand conditioning classes, exercise equipment, and customized classes along with online programs for weight loss, smoking cessation, and stress reduction. Participating health insurance companies include the AARP Medicare Supplement, Human, Kaiser Permanente, Bravo Health, some Blue Cross Blue Shield plans and many others. Silver Sneakers targeted the program to seniors to motivate them to make healthier lifestyle choices to reduce future health care costs. According to the Silver Sneakers website, members have lowered sedentary behaviors by 70 percent with nearly half reporting physical activity at least two days per week. With more than 40 major health plans across the country participating in the program, the program reaches more than 2 million people at no cost above usual health insurance premiums.
The AARP Triumph Triathlon Series and the SilverSneakers program are both innovative approaches to heighten physical activity among our aging population. There are countless programs and activities marketed to our seniors, a generally skeptical bunch. By doing your homework first and paying close attention to the words and style of the generational leaders, your marketing campaigns are most likely to resonate with your intended new markets.
Tags: physical activity, seniors, older adults, marketing, AARP, triathlons
Creative programming | Marketing Physical Activity | Older adults
You may have read here before about the National Physical Activity Plan, but wonder how it can be put into action on a local or individual level.
The National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity (NCPPA) is a proud advocate for the plan, which is a comprehensive set of strategies, policies, practices and initiatives aimed at increasing physical activity in the national population. Our goal is to produce a measurable and progressive increase in the percentage of Americans who meet recommended guidelines for physical activity throughout their lifetimes. The results we are looking for include improved health and well-being; increased productivity; reduction of health disparities; and lowered rates of disease, disability, and premature death attributable to sedentary lifestyles.
To carry out our work for the National Physical Activity Plan, NCPPA has built a network of eight industry sector teams, including business/industry, education, health care, parks and recreation, public health, and transportation. These teams of individuals work together to develop strategies and tactics aimed at getting people moving.
So how do the sector goals translate into specific actions and policies? One great example where the impetus for increasing physical activity has tremendous impact is the military. Mission: Readiness, an organization of over 200 retired generals, warns Congress that the tripling of childhood obesity rates over the past three decades means that one in four 17-24 year-olds in the United States is too overweight for military service. Only 22% of high school seniors have daily physical education, and many students in those classes still get little exercise. Mission: Readiness advocates for replacing unhealthy public school food and making physical education and activity part of the school day. Over a 10-year period, the number of states with 40% or more of young adults who were overweight or obese went from 2 to 43, the group said. This is not only a public health issue, but one of national security.
Mission: Readiness continues to pushing state and school districts to increase physical education so more children will be physically fit and, therefore, prepared for military service.
CEO Pledge on Physical Activity
Another example of the NPAP in action is the campaign launched by NCPPA's Business & Industry Sector called the CEO Pledge on Physical Activity. On September 24, 26 CEOs of corporations and organizations committed themselves to being physically active, and signed the pledge to provide their employees with opportunities to engage in physical activity. The pledge reads:
For the betterment of my company, our employees, their families, and our country, I pledge to improve employee health and wellness by providing opportunities and resources for physical activity before, during or after the workday, and to enhance my own health and wellness by engaging in regular physical activity.
"Research studies show that overall employee happiness and productivity are enhanced by daily exercise, especially when accessibility and support to exercise come from within the corporate environment," NCPPA President Laurie Whitsel told CEOs assembled at a Capitol Hill signing ceremony. The lack of physical activity is a leading contributor to the nation's obesity crisis, and work-related concerns often create hurdles to employee access to opportunities for physical activity."
Below: Three CEOs present their signed Pledge on Physical Activity certificates. From left to right: Dave Pickering, Preventure; Brian Biagioli, National Council on Strength & Fitness; and Scott Goudeseune, American Council on Exercise.
Below: Sue Liebenow of L&T Fitness signs the pledge.
"The CEO Pledge makes clear that business leaders have an influential role to play in addressing our country's health and health care crises," said Joe Moore, President and CEO of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, and one of the first to sign the pledge. "With most working adults spending roughly half their waking hours on the job on the days that they work, it is incumbent upon business and industry leaders to become part of the solution. By promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles within the workplace, CEOs help their company's bottom line, but they also help society."
These are just two examples of how the National Physical Activity Plan is being put into action around the country every day. Please friend NCPPA on Facebook for more information and updates on the plan. And please check out our CEO Pledge page on Facebook, as well.
How are you implementing the National Physical Activity Plan?
Tags: Physical Activity Plan, CEO pledge, military, school fitness
Events | National Plan | Physical Activity and Employers | Schools
Heading out to engage in physical activity often is easier for people when they can join with others in groups, and support and motivate each other. By engaging communities in physical activity, you can help people share knowledge about the benefits of physical activitiy, develop awareness about opportunities to be physically active, and overcome barriers and negative attitudes that may exist about exercise.
The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force recommends several initiatives that communities can adopt to successfully encourage and increase amounts of physical activity, in order to help manage and mitigate chronic health diseases, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. Community access to opportunities for physical activity is extremely important. Building walking trails, pools, fields, and gyms help provide citizens with more opportunities to exercise. Reducing fees for facilities access and providing low or no-cost programming and coaching also helps eliminate barriers to exercise. Simply placing motivational signs by elevators and escalators can remind residents and office workers to use nearby stairs in order to improve health and promote weight management. Community-wide media campaigns through television, radio, and newspapers promote screenings and educational workshops at worksites, schools and other community locations. Social support interventions in the community - including buddy systems, group walks, and fitness classes - also help steer physical behavior in a positive direction while strengthening community bonds and friendships.
There are many cities throughout the country that are making enormous efforts to foster physical activity development and awareness in their communities. Residents are given tools to help attain active lifestyle goals through access to fitness equipment, trails, and online support groups. Here are three examples of communities engaging their citizens in fitness programs.
City of Trenton, MI: Trenton's Health and Wellness Coalition
Goal: Encourage group walks in neighborhoods
Walk your way to a healthy life! This is the theme for Walk Michigan, a free program for all ages that meets three times a week to walk along a scenic bike path. The group walk helps encourage residents to walk regularly by joining neighbors in strengthening community bonds. Walk Michigan is a year-long initiative that transitions the outdoors walks to indoors during the winter season. The coalition also offers a variety of reduced-price fitness classes at various centers, gyms, and schools.
Fall River, MA: Fall River Fitness Challenge
Goal: Encourage friendly competition and educate residents to increase physical activity
Open to residents of Fall River, this ongoing challenge allows participants to gain access to fitness programs and centers throughout the city for little or no cost. These programs and educational promotions h
elp them learn to eat well, exercise, lose weight, become fit, and prevent diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases. Not only do residents get to exercise in a fun, stress-free environment, but they are provided with tools to do this regularly, and have the chance to win prizes for their hard efforts.
San Antonio, TX: Mayor's Fitness Council
Goal: Deliver an online community platform that gives residents tools to help incorporate physical activity
In addition to county-wide fitness programs, Arlington created an open portal to promote local programs and maximize utilization of opportunities to engage in physical activity. The FitArlington portal maintains a comprehensive calendar of county events and provides incentives for exercising and for creating physical activity programming. The easy accessibility relies on the portal's online platform, which serves as an excellent resource tool, providing tips on exercise, places for everything fitness related, and fun events promoting physical aware
ness. The portal supports four main initiatives: Get Fit, Get Outdoors, Places to Stay, and Play a Sport. A list of physical activities, groups, and local events throughout Arlington County can be found through the portal, which also facilitates development of new programming by connecting coaches and program managers with county facilities and staff.
Thanks to the help of local community efforts, residents in many places find it easier than ever to become physically active. Great community leaders in many locations have successfully transformed their communities into physical activity-friendly environments. Help your community get excited about physical activity by becoming an active and fit resident, and spreading the important message about how physical activity plays a critical role in bettering health!
What are some physical activity programs available to groups in your community?
Tags: physical activity, NCPPA, walking programs, engaging communities, fitness
Building Healthy Communities
This page last updated on: 11/04/2009
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Office of Disease Prevention & Health Promotion, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.