the message of physical activity to older adults just got easier
Milner is the CEO of the International Council on Active Aging and
the former President of IDEA Health and Fitness Association, and
Vice President of sales and marketing for Keiser Corporation. Over
the past 20 years Milner has been on all sides of the industry
including club management, consulting, publishing and equipment
manufacturing. He has authored over 80 industry articles and has
been interviewed extensively in leading publications such as,
Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Milner sits on the advisory board of Can Fit Pro, The American
Senior Fitness Association and Peak Performance. If you wish to
contact Mr. Milner you can call him toll free at 866-335-9777 or
visit the website of the ICAA at www.icaa.cc
move into the 55-plus demographic this decade, the characteristics
and interests of this segment of the population will change. The
American Association of Retired People (AARP) and the Robert Wood
Johnson Foundation set out to research one of the fastest changing
areas: health behavior in the older adult, particularly in the area
of physical activity. The initial findings of the AARP study and, in
time, other research will become paramount in how our industry
communicates the message of physical activity to older adults.
objective of the AARP research was to better understand those in the
older demographic who are active.
mature market now represents 23% of all fitness memberships,
according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub
Association, and 43% of all hospital wellness center memberships,
according to the Medical Fitness Association. What motivates these
older adults to be active? And what barriers in their lives keep
them from being physically active? The AARP study focused on these
areas to see what they could tell us about messages and
interventions that will capture the aging population’s hearts and
fact that older adults are not all the same-that many segments and
issues exist-was crucial to the structure and delivery of AARP’s
research. As the association dove into this project, it established
that the primary distinguishing factor in health behavior was not
age, but lifestyle.
of the market
found big differences in the attitudes and behaviors of study
participants, who were pre-retired, retired and in midlife. These
findings could become an important tool in the quest to change
people’s behavior around physical activity. They could also become
the cornerstone of your communications with the mature market.
Forty to sixty year-olds saw midlife as a time of reckoning and
change. They were holding on tightly to midlife and weren’t
prepared to let go. Work had become the centerpiece of their lives.
They felt stretched thin and caught in the middle, as they cared for
parents and children. And they weren’t sure how to fit exercise
into their lives.
and older than midlife. These people were hanging onto this
stage of life and weren’t ready to move on. Although still career
oriented, they had experienced changes in their health, which
started them thinking about how to battle the aging process-a
growing concern for them. This information provides a good clue of
how to target physical activity messages to this segment of the
Retired. People in this segment had adopted a new sense of
time, as their values and beliefs began to change. Health and
disease concerned this group. They also focused on how long they
could maintain their independence and functionality, as well as what
they would have to do to extend and maximize it.
then set out to segment the market based on attitude towards
exercise, physical activity and the likelihood of being physically
active, rather than on age or health status. They derived the
following four segments from their research.
couch potatoes. This group was happily sedentary and had
thousands of excuses for why they could not be physically active.
There was virtually nothing the industry could do to get them off
exercisers. These people had built exercise into their lives.
They were committed to consistent exercise, and they would never
think of skipping it. Habitual exercisers represented a very small
segment of the population.
This segment was further down the behavior spectrum. They had good
intentions, but they thought physical activity was too hard. They
couldn’t figure out how to fit exercise into their lives, how to
get started or what to do. Planners considered habitual exercisers
mean and self-centered, due to the time the exercisers spent on
themselves. This perception created an interesting barrier to entry
for planners: they feared they might become like the habitual
exerciser. This segment did not really believe the American College
of Sport Medicine’s (ACSM) minimal guidelines for exercise. To
them, 30 minutes a day was way too much. Typical comments from this
group included “Nobody should be telling us how much exercise to
do,” “We should listen to our bodies,” and “We know we have
done enough when we are tired.”
This group had built exercise into a part of their lives, but couldn’t
figure out how to reach the minimal ACSM guidelines. In fact, this
group didn’t believe the guidelines-a major hurdle. Tryers didn’t
see how they could possibly do more exercise, and they looked to
others to see how to fit exercise into their schedules. Even though
they were further along on the spectrum, tryers exercised only one
to two times per week for maybe 20 minutes at a time, so they had a
long way to go to meet the ACSM guidelines. Tryers relied on
information to help them decide what to do, and to figure out what
difference following the ACSM guidelines would make in their daily
AARP discovered that each group displayed a certain set of
characteristics, regardless of age, lifestyle, gender or perceived
health status. But planners and tryers had something in common: they
looked for information tips, tools and strategies to help them
become more physically active. Simply stated, they were open to the
message. AARP intends to focus its efforts on these two groups.
key to penetrating the hearts and minds of older adults is to speak
their language, as AARP discovered early in its research. The
association tested a variety of words to assess their effectiveness
in communicating the message of physical activity to planners and
tryers. The feedback they received was illuminating.
Active: Very positive response
participants, active meant engaged with life, family and community.
They did not equate active with exercise. For people at the older
end of the age spectrum, active meant going to church or playing
bingo. They also did not connect the word with exercise.
Very negative response
participants saw exercise as too hard and difficult. “Exercise is
not a word that you would want to use in your message,” says
Katrinka Sloan, director, Life Resource, for AARP.
Physically active: Very positive reaction
participants liked the term physically active, because it implied
they could do a wide range of activities to be physically active,
rather than just going for a walk. They intuitively understood the
being fit, staying fit, and being in shape: very neutral response
words are clearly an absolute state,” says Sloan. “Some
[participants] liked this because it did not sound as hard as
exercise. It’s something you could use in your marketing, but is
not necessarily a winner like active. As we heard time and time
again, words are extremely important as we think about developing
also tested words like moderate and vigorous to see if participants
understood them in relation to exercise. Vigorous meant nothing to
people, because they could not figure out what it meant in terms of
physical activity. But they understood moderate, especially when it
equated a brisk walk. People probably had some sense that moderate
related to pacing and pumping a little harder.
association also tested the phrase most days of the week versus
almost all days of the week. Research participants showed much more
comfort with the phrase, most days of the week.
Five days also proved an important threshold for study participants.
If people were told the message exercise five days of the week, they
protested and said five days was way too much. But they responded
positively to more than four days and four or more days.
is determined to learn more about what planners and tryers think.
The association plans to take the study findings and design
interventions specifically for these two groups.
achieve this goal, AARP will test five messages this year:
Choose self-efficacy-something like a Just believe it, you can do
it campaign, which would particularly target the issues of being
stretched thin between marriage, jobs, kids and other things;
Remind people of their excuses for not exercising, injecting a
little humor into these reasons;
Show the impact of exercise: exercise versus no exercise;
Exercise for the ones you love;
Fight the effects of aging by doing physical activity.
also appears to be some barriers to overcome in terms of
understanding the amount of exercise required under the ACSM
guidelines,” says Katrinka Sloan. “[The participants’] level
of skepticism is high, as scientists’ recommendations keep
changing, so why believe it.”
proved ambivalent about exercise, as they saw it as hard to do. They
knew they should exercise, but they didn’t know how to fit it into
their busy lives. They also seemed detached from finding a solution.
research participants also did not understand what strength training
was, how to get started or even what to do. Fueled by fear of
injury, they had built a prevalent barrier to strength training.
Another challenge was their misperception that strength training was
for buff young people in spandex. This disbelief and skepticism are
important issues to recognize and try to overcome in your
valuable research reinforces the need to do your homework before
setting out on a communications 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.
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