Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Struggling with Occupancy at Your Senior Living Community?

If you quietly answered yes to that question and then pulled your office door shut so no one would know you were reading this blog, it’s okay. Take a deep breath. You’re not the only one who has struggled with occupancy at one time or another.

Kudos to you for looking at alternative means to boost your occupancy. It’s true: wellness programming hasn’t been a traditional area for tackling occupancy issues. But as more and more communities get on board with providing a healthy lifestyle for their residents, a creative and well-executed resident wellness strategy will become essential for communities to compete in the marketplace.

That may be the future, but I don’t think it’s too far off. And positioning your community now with a standout fitness and wellness program for your residents will only build your competitive advantage.

If you’re looking for some baby steps to take to get you started, consider reviewing the National Whole-Person Wellness Survey available from Mather LifeWays for $15. The report is extensive and details various trends in community wellness, covering multiple dimensions as well as details about program participation and anticipated future trends in community wellness.

You can also register for the NIFS Build Vitality webinar series. In this free four-part webinar series, we cover wellness branding, fitness centers, wellness staffing, and wellness programs.

If this all seems like too much to bite off for now, watch the short video below to hear why senior living marketing professionals are convinced robust wellness programming is central to their occupancy success.

Topics: active aging nifs fitness management NIFS senior center solutions senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center occupancy

Evaluating Your Retirement Community Fitness Program

active seniorYou likely receive feedback from residents on how much they enjoy certain group fitness classes or instructors, or perhaps the NuStep in the fitness center. You hear it in passing comments like, “Don’t get rid of the yoga instructor,” or “We need another NuStep.” Those comments provide great feedback as part of your overall assessment of the fitness program. But beyond those individual preferences, how do you measure the true value of your community fitness program and what it lends to your resident population as well as to your community’s marketing potential?

Cater to the All Potential Participants

Your lifelong exercisers will likely find opportunities that they enjoy no matter how much or how little your community is able to offer. Positive feedback from these select participants doesn’t mean that your program is making the grade for your resident population as a whole. There is likely an untapped audience in your community and creative programming plus personal touches can help draw those less active residents into the fitness center and/or classes. This is definitely an area of strength for us. Our clients quickly see the benefits of a partnership with NIFS when we can show them exactly who is participating in our programming.  

Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Fitness Program

So that begs the question: Do you know what percentage of your residents participate in group fitness classes or uses the fitness center from month to month? Which classes are the most popular or which pieces of equipment are most frequently used? Have your residents shared why this is the case? If you can’t answer all or some of these questions, that likely means your community fitness offerings could benefit from a more solid foundation to evaluate participation and resident interests.

Consider these simple steps your community can take to begin measuring the effectiveness of your program:

  1. Utilization of your fitness center and participation in group fitness classes should be tracked daily and reported on a regular basis. Communities can determine the information they would like to evaluate and implement tracking methods for their fitness staff and residents. We find that residents take to simple sign-in sheets fairly easily and fitness staff and group fitness instructors can provide friendly reminders to residents to sign in. Providing a structured memberhsip process is a good starting point to clearly track who is and is not participating.
  2. Conduct annual surveys to gather direct resident feedback to rate the overall quality of existing classes, instructors, programs, and services. Learn from the resident population as a whole (don’t just send the survey to active participants) about additional programs that they would like to see or ask them to share why they aren’t currently participating. After processing the results, develop an action plan to follow up with individual residents or on general program improvements to continually evolve the program and hopefully engage more participants.
  3. Your fit and active crowd will likely be the most vocal about the types of equipment they would like to see or group classes they would like to try. However, it is important to regularly evaluate the full scope of programing including balance in class offerings, available equipment, and scheduled programs focused on fitness. Residents of all ability levels should have exercise options in the fitness center as well as group exercise classes for their specific needs. It’s fine for instructors to provide modifications for residents of all ability levels in classes, but it’s important for lower-functioning participants to feel like they have options all their own and that they aren’t simply being condescended to in a group of more able-bodied residents.

Taking these simple steps can help improve resident satisfaction in your community fitness offerings. It will also provide more concrete talking points for your marketing department when speaking with prospective residents. Important program metrics coupled with powerful and personal success stories speak volumes to prospects who are trying to gain an understanding of what their lives can be like if they move into your community.  

CCRC Fitness Center Marketing

Topics: senior center solutions senior fitness management CCRC fitness center senior fitness marketing program evaluation

The Secrets of a Successful Senior Living Wellness Brand

We see it all the time – fantastic retirement communities with diverse and enriching wellness programming for their residents, but lacking a unified banner to pull it all together.  Instead, the programming is a little bit hodge-podge and lacking in a strategic focus.  And senior living wellness professionals, because their busy and pulled in 100 different directions, are missing out on opportunities to capitalize on these engaging wellness activities.

What is your senior living community’s wellness strategy missing?

  • Are you able to capture stories of how your wellness services are positively impacting the lives of your residents?
  • Is your marketing and sales staff able to effectively articulate what it means to live vibrantly in your community to prospects who may be reluctant to leave their homes?
  • Do you have a wellness brand that is well-executed through the community within multiple departments, through a variety of personnel?

 If you didn’t answer a resounding YES to all three of those questions, then check out some of the key strategies below that we offer our clients who are working on building a better wellness brand.

  • Begin with the end in mind:  When you’re just getting started considering the brand you want to develop for wellness at your senior living setting, it is sometimes helpful to think about the end point.  Consider what you want to communicate and how that should look.  Once you are able to define that end-picture, you can start working backwards on what needs to be developed, designed, created, and transformed.
  • Identify and leverage existing successesThink about what is a huge success at your community?  What do your residents buzz about over and over again?  What kinds of events, programs, or services get the greatest participation?  Those offerings may provide you with a jumping off point for considering your wellness brand.  Giving thought to the stakeholders in your community who need to be at the table for these discussions also is part of this consideration.
  • Use the wellness dimension model to look for programming holes:  Start by writing down all the dimensions (physical, emotional, social, environmental, intellectual, vocational, spiritual) and list out all the programs you’ve run in the last six to 12 months.  Then put the programs into the wellness dimension buckets where they belong. (Most initiatives will fall into more than one dimension.)  This simple mapping technique should help you identify where you may have some gaps in services.  It should also show you low-hanging fruit opportunities for early success in your branding efforts.

To learn about two more strategies as well as some tactics for executing on your wellness brand, view our “Build a Better Wellness Brand” webinar using the button below.  If you want to cut to the chase and access all four of our Build Vitality webinars, click here.

Watch the Brand Webinar

Topics: active aging senior center solutions senior wellness programs CCRC fitness center wellness brand for senior living

5 Reasons Your Residents Don’t Engage in Community Wellness

In my work with life plan communities across the U.S., I’ve seen resident SHCV_DartArt_NSHFD.jpgwellness programs and services come in all shapes and sizes, and it's rare these days for communities NOT to promote some type of "wellness" programming for their residents. Clearly, communities are getting the message about how important resident well-being really is for both the resident and the business.

Resources like the National Whole Person Wellness survey that can guide and inform both strategic and tactical decisions for a community wellness initiative are becoming more commonly available. Similarly, the swell around opportunities like the International Council on Active Aging’s focus on Active Aging Week have sparked creative programming for older adults to engage in vibrant living.

For all of the fantastic diversity in wellness programming, resources, and opportunities available in senior living settings, there seems to be a consistent theme for many providers. They pull together initiatives only to have the same core group of residents participate. Simply put, there is a lack of robust resident engagement in the programs put forward by resident life coordinators.

It’s not an all-inclusive list, but what I’ve offered below represents some of the most common challenges I have seen in communities where NIFS provides staffing services or where I’ve offered wellness program consulting. If you find yourself nodding your head in affirmation as you read, it might be time to take a fresh look at what you’re offering and how you’re providing it.

Reason 1: Community champions were not tapped as a promotional avenue for your programming.

Trying a new group fitness class, sampling from a new healthy menu, or participating in a new wellness initiative can be daunting if you’ve never done it before. There’s nothing like a personal invitation from a neighbor or trusted friend to help nudge you toward trying something new.

If you’re not working with your top resident participants to capitalize on their success as a tool for inviting new residents to engage, you’re missing out. Personal invitation, testimonials, and other individual connection can be very successful tools for attracting other, less active residents toward wellness programming.

  • Capture testimonials in resident newsletters and on community bulletin boards/CCTV.
  • Talk to specific residents prior to launching a new initiative and ask them to invite their friends to join them. Tell them why you think their personal invitation is so important. Perhaps suggest specific residents they could connect with for the activity.
  • Build a “refer a friend” component into your next activity challenge.

Reason 2: Power grabs and silos are overshadowing what’s really possible at your community.

No one wins when the activity director, the physical therapy group, and the fitness manager are vying for control of programs, spaces, and resident loyalty. Establishing a collaborative approach across all stakeholders creates a more rich experience for the residents.

  • Activities staff should be eager to learn from their fitness director how to fold more exercise and other healthy messages into their standard programming. For what it’s worth, if you’ve done your homework and gotten the right person to direct your fitness center, then he or she is likely also qualified to provide expertise related to whole-person wellness.
  • The fitness director and the therapy department should be eagerly working together on a cross-referral program that supports appropriate therapy for residents in need and fitness program participation to maintain the positive work completed in therapy.
  • Programs and events should periodically jive with marketing events/efforts so that the community can maximize resources to serve their current residents and the prospects they want to reach.

Reason 3: You forgot to ask the residents what they want to learn about and how they want to grow.

Communities are practiced at surveying residents, but those surveys typically encompass overall living at the community. Rarely are communities engaged in surveying residents about what their lifestyle expectations are. Even rarer are custom focus groups where much can be learned about resident perspectives on current and future healthful-living offerings.

Reason 4: Volunteerism by residents is overlooked as a strategy to get more done with less staff.

Let’s face it : community financial resources are typically limited, and no one wants to charge residents more to expand services. If you're limited to the staff resources you currently have, consider tapping into occupational wellness by engaging resident volunteers to own some of the community wellness initiatives.

  • Walking groups, small-group Bible study, craft or hobby groups, and promotion and health-focused book clubs can all be resident driven.
  • You may be able to engage tech-savvy residents to support program data collection and analysis. Who could help you convert the manual attendance records into your software or spreadsheet for later analysis?

Reason 5: Data is king. If you don’t have data, you won’t know what’s working.

If I had a nickel for every time I talked to community professionals who told me they weren’t tracking attendance in their programs, I’d be set for early retirement. Simply, you need to start gathering data on your initiatives. It doesn’t have to be daunting and the numbers don’t have to be confusing. But if you keep burying your head in the sand on numbers because you’re “not good with numbers,” you will forever be left with initiatives that are about as effective as slapping spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.

  • Start small with participation numbers. Take attendance in your group fitness classes to learn which residents are coming and how often. Have residents self-report participation in the next healthy food tasting event, etc.
  • Refer to #4 for some support on how to use participation numbers to track trends over time.
  • Work with your marketing staff to find out what kinds of numbers they need to market your community’s wellness program, and then determine how to capture that data for them.

What will you do next?

I’m not a fan of change for the sake of change alone. Still, sometimes change is necessary to elevate your offerings for the good of your community. If you’re looking for a little help in evolving your community wellness strategy, visit our consulting page for a free 30 minute consultation 

 Are you ready to do wellness better? Learn more about wellness consulting.

Topics: senior center solutions senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center engagement senior fitness

How to Develop Successful Group Fitness Classes in Senior Living

active aging group fitnessJust as it is important to establish appropriate hiring criteria for Group Fitness Instructors (GFIs) at Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), its equally important to routinely evaluate the performance of GFIs and the group fitness offerings to residents.

The challenge to this evaluation is to establish the community personnel qualified to complete these evaluations. If your community has a qualified fitness professional, it’s a no-brainer that this individual can ensure that GFIs have the appropriate qualifications and can regularly evaluate their instruction. If your community does not have a qualified fitness professional, it can be a challenge to find the right personnel to fill this role. In either case, steps should be taken to ensure the safety of participating residents.

Evaluating the Senior Fitness Instructor

Evaluating an instructor can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Simply observing the class and taking notes on the questions in the following list can be a decent starting point, although a traditional graded model rating the instructor’s performance is ideal. Rating his or her performance is a real challenge for a layperson who doesn’t know what to look for. Even these questions might be too much of a stretch. This may lend significant weight to a community’s decision to hire a qualified fitness professional to oversee its fitness center and group exercise program. If community personnel can’t observe the following qualities in an existing instructor, how can they feel qualified to hire a new GFI? This may be placing your community personnel in a difficult position and not holding your community’s fitness offerings to a high enough standard.

  1. Are they providing a proper warm-up and cool-down for participants?
  2. Are they providing modifications to exercises to better challenge residents who are more advanced or to provide a safe exercise for residents who need an option at a lesser intensity?
  3. Are residents able to follow the cueing the instructor provides? Is the instructor providing additional cueing for residents to correct their form throughout the class?
  4. Is the instructor receptive to the needs of the class (for example, when it’s time to take a break, transition to seated exercises, get a drink of water, etc.)?
  5. Do the participants appear engaged and challenged by what they are doing, or do they need additional stimulation in the class?

Evaluating the Group Fitness Class Offerings

While it’s important to make sure the instructors are meeting resident needs, it’s also important to regularly evaluate the class formats and schedule for your group fitness program. Classes often evolve as participants progress and provide their feedback to instructors on their likes and dislikes. This gradual evolution may result in a completely different type of class from what it was at its inception. Review your current schedule at least once a year and consider the following:

  1. Are there class options for residents of all ability levels spanning from the lower-functioning participants to residents who may need a challenge from a higher-intensity class? (As existing classes evolve and residents progress, make sure that a moderate-level class that welcomes beginners actually hasn’t become too advanced.)
  2. Is there structure provided to the way classes are scheduled? For example, strength and conditioning classes should not be held on back-to-back days, and folding all of the group fitness offerings into a Tuesday-Thursday or Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule will not promote maximum resident engagement.
  3. Do you have cardio, strength training, balance training, flexibility training, and spiritual elements within your class schedule?

Using these questions as a starting point will help you evaluate your group fitness instructors and programs to ensure that they are offering the best experience to your residents.

Quick Tip to Strengthen Your Community Exercise Program

 

 

Topics: group exercise senior fitness management CCRC fitness center senior fitness

3 Must-Haves in Group Fitness Instructors for CCRCs

considerations for hiring group fitness instructorsMany Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) offer a variety of group fitness classes to their residents. The community personnel who hire the group fitness instructors (GFIs) may benefit from a few pointers on hiring standards beyond someone’s personality alone. Don’t get me wrong, the right personality and ability to build relationships with residents is crucial for making a class successful. However, a narrow focus on personality alone may not provide your residents with the maximum benefits of participating in the activity and could create a dangerous environment.

Certifications and Insurance

To protect participants in group exercise classes (whether in commercial gym, church, school, or CCRC settings), fitness industry standards require that GFIs maintain current instruction certifications and CPR/AED certifications. Contracted GFIs should also carry proof of personal liability insurance. Well-qualified GFIs are aware of these standards and likely would not be in the practice of instructing without maintaining those certifications. For community personnel hiring these individuals, that may be your first sign. If someone applies for the position and cannot provide proof of current certifications and liability insurance, they likely aren’t the best fit for meeting the fitness program standards for your community.

Furthermore, communities should make sure that they are maintaining current copies of certifications from their existing GFI staff. If you find that existing instructors do not have current certifications, it’s likely time to establish a timeline within which your GFIs can obtain a certification to continue with their instruction.

Experience in Senior Fitness

It’s also important to make sure that GFIs have experience teaching an older-adult population. When looking for an instructor, you might contact local senior centers, churches, or YMCAs and share information about your opening and provide the requirements and qualifications you are looking for in a GFI. This may provide you with a better candidate pool than having to sift through GFIs who teach boot camp, kettlebell, or kickboxing-type classes.

Personality

Looking at certifications and experience instructing older adults is the best starting point when looking for a GFI. However, as previously mentioned, the personality of the GFI is also critical for the overall enjoyment of the participants. When replacing an instructor or recruiting an instructor for a new class format, you might consider surveying your residents on their desired qualities in an instructor and in a class.

For example, if you are searching for a yoga instructor, residents may have feedback on enjoying the relaxation benefits of the class. This could allow you to question candidates on elements of relaxation they build into their class. While you may not have the expertise to recognize the specific details on the relaxation elements they are discussing, you should be able to gather feedback on their style of instruction: Is it soothing, focusing on breathing and guided imagery and providing a sense of calming for participants? Or does the instructor focus on deep stretching or strengthening throughout the class?

Establishing standards for GFIs in your group fitness program can benefit more than just your residents. Sharing these standards with prospective residents can be a great marketing tool to promote the dedication and focus your community places on its wellness programming.  

 Watch Resident Testimonials

Topics: group exercise senior fitness management CCRC fitness center senior fitness yoga

Retirement Community Fitness Centers - Is Bigger Always Better?

This post was updated on May 7, 2018.

There is a trend NIFS | Senior Fitness Center Designamong owners and operators of senior living communities toward a focus on resident wellness. The movement is based in research findings which indicate that opportunities for residents to live actively are important both to prospective residents as well as to their family members. Couple those findings with the constant news updates about how good regular exercise is for older adults and its easy to see why communities are so focused on ramping up their resident wellness programming.  

Perhaps the most visible element in a community's overall wellness program is their exercise offerings. When I consult for senior living clients on their fitness program, I am often asked if size matters when it comes to their physical space for exercise. Does it matter that their fitness center is small, with only a few pieces of equipment? Does it matter that they don't have dedicated group exercise class space? They can't afford to put in a pool - is that a problem for growing their exercise program?

 

Size isn't the only consideration.

Size is an important consideration, but it shouldn't be the only consideration. Much positive and fulfilling life can be lived by your residents in even the smallest spaces. We've worked with several clients who are small on space, but significant on providing meaningful and effective programming designed to engage rather than entertain residents. The challenge becomes accommodating as many participants as possible when your footprint is tight. Creative thinking can often help you solve issues like not enough equipment or overcrowding in exercise classes.

Where size does matter is when we're looking at the passion, personality, and skills of the individual(s) leading the exercise programming at your community. Even the biggest, shiniest, most state of the art fitness centers, pools, and other healthful spaces will become like a ghost town if there is no staff presence (or it’s the wrong staff presence) there to connect with your residents. Staff personality and capability reign supreme when it comes to a quality, compelling, and invitational programming at your community. 

[Learn More: Read our case studies on the impact of staff for a successful exercise program]

Get the size of your staffing just right.

There are a few ways you can invest in quality staffing for your exercise program:

  • You can provide your own staffing.
  • You could also consider tapping an existing partner for this service. We see therapy groups sliding into this market.
  • You can partner with a group like NIFS who does fitness center management as a core business.
Be careful about hiring your own exercise specialist; it's not rocket science, but there is likely more to hiring, training, and providing ongoing support for your new fitness manager than you realize. Also understand that if you connect with your therapy partner for exercise programming, your fitness environment and services will remain clinical in nature. Outsourcing is an option and when it comes down to weighing the full value proposition, it may not cost your community more than hiring your own fitness professional. 
 
Is outsourcing fitness center management right for your community?

There’s a lot at stake here.  Not enough staffing, or the wrong staff member(s) could poke a serious hole in what should be an uplifting, feel-good offering at your community. If you don’t have the money to spend on the bricks and mortar, make sure you have the resources to effectively operate what space you do have, or the entire investment could provide less than stellar results.

Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center senior fitness fitness center staffing

Senior Wellness: Can a healthy community culture can help your marketing department?

group of seniors with thumbs up

This blog was written by Emily Davenport.

As part of Active Aging Week, NIFS managers coordinated a Wellness Conference in which various community personnel and residents came together to speak about the wellness-based lifestyle programs and services available at the community. Many residents commented on being aware of certain programs and services, but not previously recognizing how cohesively the different departments worked together to provide an integrated wellness program.
Following the event, residents immediately approached our manager about the missed opportunity of filming the event for future viewing by new or prospective residents. We felt this resident response was a testament to how much current residents value their community wellness-offerings.
From the perspective of new residents to the community, existing residents identified the importance of early education about the wellness program at the community and to quickly integrate new residents into it. This speaks to the resident’s desire to keep not only their community vibrant and engaging, but to also enhance the lives of these individuals moving into the community. (If that doesn’t speak to a caring and nurturing environment for new residents to be welcomed into, I don’t know what does.)
From the perspective of prospective residents to the community, existing residents identified how critical these lifestyle options were for the active older adult and how marketable the community’s program is. It raises the question of what residents at this community might share with their friends and family about their lifestyle and how that may compare to residents of other communities without such an engaging wellness culture. Not only can a community’s image be impacted by having an engaging wellness program, but what are your best marketing assets spreading outside of the community about their lifestyle.
We are pleased that our Wellness Conference as part of Active Aging Week helped to further educate residents on the wellness offerings at the community and how whole-heartedly these individuals are embracing the programs for themselves and for others. 

Topics: senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center