// Older people using fitness as their Facebook

by Angela Palogiannidis

For man y years it has been a popular location for young people to meet others and socialise, and now it appears that the gym is being frequented by older people looking for social connection.

Social networking for Generation Y is dominated by the online presence of Facebook and MySpace, but for baby boomers, or Generation Me, the place where they can network, and do the occasional squat, is now the gym.

Research conducted by the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI )1 found that one of the most important perceived rewards for older people of participating in physical activity is social connection; meeting people, maintaining friendships and generally ‘getting out’. So while one generation is busy ‘poking’ their friends online the older generation is getting out and getting active.

NARI ’s research identified social contact as the primary reason, both as a prerequisite (having no one to go with is a barrier to participation), and as a desired outcome (meeting new friends) of participating in fitness. ‘Our study found that opportunities to socialise, keep mentally active and avoid social isolation were considered important, with the exercise considered incidental2’ said Kirsten Moore, Research Fellow at NARI, Moore went on to say that in order to be popular and effective, organised exercise programs for older people need to be enjoyable and feature a component of socialisation; ‘they often come for the cup of tea and chat afterwards’.

Many older people are part of local social networks and participate in all sorts of activities from bowls and ballroom dancing to gardening and golf3. So where do fitness facilities fit into all of this?

Industry research recently conducted by Fitness Australia1 also revealed that the gyms that successfully work with large numbers of older people incorporate a social activity component with the physical activity. The older people who attend regular group exercise or strength training classes keep coming back and, wait for it, bring their friends with them.

The research also found that most owners and managers have not considered targeting older people for new business, and neither have they considered adapting their physical environment to attract this new market4.

‘For some gyms it’s as simple as creating a social space in the facility to allow the group to come together after a session for tea and coffee,’ said Lauretta Stace, Fitness Australia Chief Executive Officer; ‘Others choose to organise a lunch once a month, use local fundraising campaigns as leverage or work with community groups on a joint promotion (some of which are usually seen to be competitors) such as bowls clubs, RSL clubs, surf clubs and bingo groups’ she continued.

Even though the older demographic was recognised as the second biggest growth area for NSW fitness businesses, after personal training5, it remains a largely untapped market in the fitness industry.

Yes, a Facebook profile is only a few clicks away but not too much further is a much more profitable networking opportunity. Is your club logging in to the fastest growing social network and creating a profile within the older adults group?

If your club is based in NSW register for your FREE Older.Fitter.Better business resource kit. Call 1300 211 311 or e-mail olderfitterbetter@fitness.org.au


1,2,3 National Ageing Research Institute, Participation in Physical Activity Amongst Older People, July 2003
4,5 Fitness Australia, Fitness Industry Capacity Building Project Fitness Business Focus Groups Report, October 2007
6 2007 Fitness NSW Business Member survey, March 2007


Angela Palogiannidis
Angela is the Marketing and Communications Manager in NSW for the Fitness Industry Association, Fitness Australia. She is currently running the Older.Fitter.Better industry initiative that is funded by NSW Health in partnership with Fitness Australia.