The Flabby Thinking of America's Fitness Industry

Thank you, Captain Obvious!

That was my instant reaction to yet another medical study finding that exercise can slow the aging process. The benefits of exercising, and the importance of maintaining muscle mass, have been firmly established and documented for years. Exercise is critical even for older people suffering from debilitating ailments such as arthritis.

"The more muscle you put around a joint, the more support you give it, meaning there's less work the joint has to do," UCLA rheumatologist John Fitzgerald is quoted in a recent issue of HEALTHY/Years, a newsletter published by the UCLA Division of Geriatrics. "More muscle builds stability and prevent falls." Fitzgerald also warns "in general, exercise should be supervised by a physical therapist or a well informed trainer."

I'm not certain where Fitzgerald works out, but the universe of fitness trainers with the knowledge and experience to work with America's fast aging population is pretty limited. The fitness industry still overwhelmingly caters to twenty- and thirty-somethings, and trainers overwhelmingly hail from this demographic. The overhaul setup of gyms hasn't evolved that much over the years; Equinox, the swanky and most expensive fitness chain, still adheres to the same design of its original New York club that opened more than 20 years ago.

Training someone 55 or older requires specialized knowledge and empathy. As a person reaches their later years, their fitness goals are typically to maintain muscle mass and cardio health. But adjustments and accommodations must often be made to train an older person because their muscles, joints, and ligaments aren't as agile as someone in their twenties. An appropriate fitness routine for someone in the twenties can be quite harmful for someone in their seventies.

From a financial perspective, fitness clubs are overlooking a gold mine of an opportunity. Boomers currently control 70 percent of consumer spending in the U.S., and older shoppers outspent younger shoppers by one trillion dollars in 2010, with grandparents spending $27.5 billion on grandchildren, according to a report by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Not only could fitness clubs earn significant revenues attracting retirees as members, many retirees might be interested in taking out memberships for their grandchildren.

I founded CareLinx, the nation's leading home care company, with the goal of keeping America's elderly in their homes. Keeping America's aging population healthy and fit is a critical part of this goal. By developing the talent and resources to properly train and exercise America's elderly, the fitness industry could dramatically increase profits while making a meaningful contribution to improving the quality of life for what will soon be 20 percent of the population.