America's older population has been targeted by civilian fitness centers for years, but military fitness centers also can't afford to forget these members.
America is aging. So too, are military members and those who use fitness centers on bases around the world. America's population of those 50-plus stands at about 65 million, and active military personnel in that age group number in the thousands - not to mention retirees, family members and others - who use your facility. Understanding this age group and creating programming options with them in mind is of increasing importance for those running military fitness centers.
According to 2011 Department of Defense statistics, only 5.5 percent of active-duty enlisted men and women are older than 41 but a little more than 25 percent of active-duty officers fall into this age range. Add to that 48 percent of reserve officers and 19 percent of reserve enlisted personnel and the amount of military either in or getting close to this group is fairly significant. This doesn't even take into account the number of retired military members older than 50.
While this age group has often been targeted by civilian fitness centers due to their abundance of discretionary income, military fitness centers should not forget these members of their communities as well - especially as we find more evidence on the importance of health and wellness for this age group.
Targeting this growing demographic can be achieved most effectively by having a progressive program developed by a professional who understands the specific needs of older exercisers.
"A well rounded fitness plan would benefit this age group the most," says Lynn Folsom, an American Council on Exercise CPT, and a card-carrying AARP member who specializes in working with this population. "It is important for a program be designed that would address flexibility, incorporate weights or some kind of resistance into circuits and include at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular training - and I often have them do mental work while riding to ensure they are training their mind along with their bodies."
In fact, this philosophy fits in with the International Council on Active Aging's (ICAA) seven dimensions of wellness.
"The seven dimensions of wellness - physical, social, spiritual, intellectual, emotional, vocational and environmental wellness - are the backbone of active aging," says the ICAA on its website. "They are also key to providing the breadth of programs and environments that fulfill the needs, interests and expectations of the diverse 50-plus population."
But older military and retirees face not only issues of aging faced by the general population, but bring along other factors that need to be considered.
"Being active for so long makes it hard to accept that you may have some limitations. It has been my experience that they face the same [aging] issues, they just have a different mindset when it comes to their fitness in general," says Folsom. "Most active people can maintain their activity levels with a minimum of modifications. If they find the activity enjoyable it makes it even easier to remain active."
And finding and adapting to new training modalities, individually and in groups, is a growing way to keep an aging population up and active.
"Many older Americans feel they can do what they did as kids - and some can - leading them to things like CrossFit, which may be more harmful than helpful," says Folsom. "Offering small group and personal training with tools such as TRX, kettle bells and sandbags is becoming more and more popular with the older population and can aid strength and mobility and should be offered as an alternative."
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