Focus on the over 50s: The Pivot to Senior Fitness

Here on the Ashbourne blog, it is no secret that we like to focus on demographic change.

And why wouldn’t we? After all, the fitness industry is an industry of contradiction when it comes to age, demographics and generation difference.

It is an industry at once highly susceptible to demographic change yet also oddly inured to it.

After all, the first buildings we would recognise as Gyms (known as Zurkhaneh for those interested) are older than even the first libraries. (The 7th century BC vs the 9th century BC for those still interested!)

So it is safe to say that this working out business has some longevity to it! (As does reading, so it would thankfully seem!)

So what do we mean when we talk about the relationship of the fitness industry to demographic change, especially from the perspective of independent gym and fitness club owners? 

Well, it is that the fitness industry (until very recently) was overwhelmingly populated and targeted towards younger people. This presents several challenges, not least of which is that each new generation represents a new and relatively unknown entity. Will they largely follow the same pattern as their predecessors, as Gen Z seems to be following and building upon the millennial trend in their fitness habits? Or will they represent a radical departure such as Generation X when contrasted with the ‘baby boomers’. 

It is a pertinent and important question to the fitness industry, but one that can only really be intuited as the generation is unfolding. This stands in stark contrast to an industry that, say, only targets the over-65s. 

While the over-65s, much like the under-40s, is a constantly shifting demographic with new people entering their ranks and others passing away, it is still always ebbing and flowing as a cultural entity. 

So we spend a lot of time focusing on what trends will matter to the millennials, Generation Z and beyond. But our focus today is the exact opposite. We will be once again exploring the known entities. The generations that have shaped the fitness industry and broader economy for the last thirty years plus.

And the generation that has stayed more interested in fitness into their midlife and elder years more than any generation before it.

A continued trend for 2024

As 2024 continues to assert itself, it is becoming clear that the trend of ‘older adult’ fitness is moving from strength to strength. As we were at pains to try and reinforce above, this is a big deal within the fitness industry, and specifically to independent gym and fitness club owners (the type of institution an ‘older adult’ is most likely to use!)

The reason for this continued focus and boom is fairly simple. We are more health-conscious than ever before and this is one of the first generations to grow old under the auspice of ‘living longer and living better’. The fatalism and inertia of the previous generations has started to dissipate slowly and the cycle of increased demand leading to increased supply has started to take effect.

This expands what had previously been a fairly niche market for independent gyms and fitness clubs. Normally it was accepted that after a certain age, gyms would lose their grasp on a generation as they retreated towards cruise holiday and television. 

But no longer, in 2023 it was reported that the term  “fitness programs for older adults” was one of the top twenty trending terms in the fitness industry according to a survey of more than four thousand health and fitness professionals by the American College of Sports Medicine.

In fact, it ranked 4th overall. This new high is perhaps partially due to the covid-19 pandemic which saw the rise and proliferation of many government and private campaigns to improve the public health, specifically of those most likely to be grievously affected by Covid-19.

It is entirely possible that this trend is also being stimulated by the increasing number of baby boomers leaving the workforce and retiring, prompting the search for new ways to stay fit and active. 

And with this rise comes many other trends for independent gym and fitness clubs to explore. We have already written about the rise of ‘functional fitness’ and how it has been powered by the shift in priority amongst both young and old. This is another trend that has continued to strengthen into 2024, no doubt receiving a push from the increasing number of ‘older adults’ that wish to live a better quality of life for longer. 

In addition to ‘functional fitness’ for older adults, another trend being pushed is the rise of wearable technologies, which also seem to be experiencing a renaissance. 

Independent gyms and fitness clubs would be remiss to ignore this development within the fitness industry, especially if they are within the multitude of towns that are experiencing a rise in the average age of the population.

Events And Classes Aimed at 'Older Adults'

With the rise of the ‘older adult’ market, there is also an increase in events aimed at this demographic. This is an example of the ‘positive momentum’ we often talk about on the blog. The more events held, the more normalised ‘Older adult’ oriented classes and memberships will become and the greater this part of the market expands for the fitness industry. 

A prominent example of this in 2023 was the launch of the Pure Gym fitness championships that were dedicated to the over-50s. 

It was an initiative that allowed anyone over 50 to enter free of charge into the Pure Gym Over 50s Fitness Championships, whether they were a member or not. 

While we are not a fan of praising the budget-chains, we do think that as market leaders, they are useful to monitor and study. Pure Gym evidently put stock in the evidence of an emerging trend for ‘older adult’ workouts and independent gyms and fitness clubs would do well to note that. 

The events were further broken up by the age-bandings used across different championships, with 50 to 59 years old being the first, 60 to 69 years old being the second , 70 to 79 years old as the third and the finally 80+ as the fourth and last.

 While we would not recommend that every independent gym or fitness club owner copies the event format, we believe there is merit in the format. Pure Gym evidently wanted to attract new members within the 50+ bracket to their gyms, offering lifetime and year-long memberships as rewards and prizes. 

This is not a bad idea for an independent gym or fitness club that has a significant 50+ population within the area. Often we find that potential 50+ members cite that one of the main reasons for not attending a gym is not knowing whether it is ‘aimed at them’. An event such as this, especially one that offers membership as a prize is a huge beacon saying ‘this is aimed at you’.

The other good news is that the events are easy to run merely by utilising the equipment available within an independent gym or fitness club. Treadmills, Exercise Bikes, Elliptical Trainers, Rowing Machines. These all represent great, over 50+ friendly workouts that often are banked up or in a row within a gym floor environment. 

Social Messaging

Just as importantly, this focus on over 50s has an important social message as well. Pure Gym led with the tags that focused on the fact that no-one is too old to give up staying healthy. This is important, not only on a societal level, with healthcare costs for our ageing population representing a major current and future challenge, but also on an individual level. 

This is what the fitness industry thrives on, making sure people live better and are better for longer. This is not a message that should be gated off behind any parameter, let alone age.

The fact it also represents a promising and expansive new revenue stream is, of course, also very useful in this challenging economy. 

Events such as these allow for an independent gym or fitness club’s social media channel to be full of positive. To enact a ‘celebration’ of vitality into midlife and older age.

It can also be an important exercise in community building and bonding. Older people will often be the most embedded within a community, and also the least likely to move away from an area compared to the highly mobile younger generations. 

And unlike the Pure Gym championship, which focused on a higher level of performance, there is nothing to say that the event can’t be gentle or even humorous. It is a good opportunity for independent gym and fitness club management to get creative, have some fun and meet sections of the community they do not normally have the pleasure of interacting with. 

Family Focused

One consideration for independent gyms and fitness clubs looking to host events that will bring in the over 50+ while not alienating or excluding the younger generations is to host more ‘family-centric’ events. This has been a popular type of event among our partners, as it is both very easy to market and organise. 

It can also help effortlessly blend fitness programs for older adults focused on the ageing population alongside more general functional fitness training that can be utilised by anyone, irrespective of age.

We have found that these events can be very popular if marketed correctly and in advance. Families are often looking for cost effective and health activities that they can engage with together, including the grandparents. If these events can be fed out on more elderly facing social medis such as Facebook and via the local council or community network, attendance could sky-rocket!

Why Is Senior Fitness Important To Independent Gyms and Fitness Clubs?

We have covered and will continue to cover the faltering life-expectancy rate within the UK, especially among the disadvantaged before on the blog.

But one thing we have not covered so much is an unexpected side-effect of the increase in life-expectancy. It is a point best surmised in a study by the Vitality Research Institute that has found that increasingly men and women are spending a larger proportion of their life in ‘poor health’. 

Unsurprisingly, this ‘poor health’ tends to occur most prevalently at the end of life. This trend has prompted a distinction between life expectancy and ‘healthspan’. One has increased apace and caused a significant decline in the other.

This presents problems both socially and economically for our society and it is something that fitness facilities such as independent gyms and fitness clubs are in a prime position to help with. 

As we mentioned earlier, there is a growing demand among consumers to live not only for a long time, but to live well for that time. It represents not only a wasted opportunity economically but also societally if independent gyms let the chance to contribute to this struggle pass them by. 

We firmly believe that independent gyms that place functional fitness and healthspan increasing exercise as one of their core focuses will reap major benefits as this trend continues to compound.

Because while this is an emerging trend, it shows no sign of abating and this desire will most likely only compound as the 2020s give way to the 2030s and beyond. 

When there is a rare instance of consumer aspirations merging with both the prevailing health advice and the societal good, it would be reckless for independent gym and fitness club owners NOT to heed the call. 

The fitness industry as a whole must present ambitious strategies to deal with this crisis and there is no reason that this can’t begin at the local and independent gym level. 

The fitness industry and sector must realise and act upon the fact that we are one of the only sectors well positioned to assist in combating this crisis. 

And as the ageing populations of the West continue to grow, this will be an issue that takes on greater and greater societal importance. 

It is about leveraging the existing expertise and experience found within the fitness industry to make a genuine difference to people’s lives. Shaping their life in both a qualitative and quantitative way.  

Fitness facilities, and especially independent gyms and fitness clubs represent a valuable, accessible and often local nexus for everyday people to access the equipment and expertise that could alter their life in the years to come. 

It is about creating a culture that is accessible and potentially empowering to an ageing population that is eager for solutions to the quality of life and healthspan issues.

Are you an independent gym or fitness club owner looking to host events and classes similar to the ones we have mentioned today?

If you are an independent gym or fitness club owner or manager who is looking to reach new demographics, hold large events or organise an effective fitness class structure then look no further. You may have just found the partnership that will help take your fitness facility to the next level!

Here at Ashbourne, we have worked for 25 years of experience in the fitness industry, working with thousands of gyms in order to ensure that they were operating at peak efficiency.

Whether it is with our lightweight and powerful direct debit handling gym membership management software, our incisive BI dashboards or our state of the art access control installation plans, we have helped countless gym owners secure the future of their business.

Interested to see how Ashbourne can help your independent gym thrive? Book a demonstration with our sales team today here to find out more! 

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