Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Senior Living: Fitness Center Design for Current and Future Residents

father_daughterSeveral months ago, my parents were prospects in the market to relocate to a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) from their 4.5-acre home of almost 20 years. There were a variety of reasons for them making this move consideration, but age and ill health weren’t on that list. 

My parents (at the time of writing) are both 72 years old and in quite good health. My mom walks up to an hour with friends most days of the week; she’s done that for as long as I can remember. My dad is an avid exerciser and he’s the reason I’m a runner today. He gets significant cardiovascular exercise for more than an hour four to five days per week, along with rigorous strength training at least three days per week in his home gym. They are both very active in their community and in the extensive gardens and rich woods on their property.

They aren’t frail, and they don’t fit into the more typical average age of 80+ in most CCRCs. 

Checking Out a Community with My Parents

So when they started shopping and had narrowed down their list to a primary community that held their interest, they asked my family to join them for a tour. We walked through the community center building and got a great look into the typical areas including the bistro, the formal dining room, the library, the craft areas, and the fitness areas. 

After we left the community, and 100% without my prompting, my dad asked me why their fitness center had “all of that strength equipment for old people” in it. Those were his words, not mine. This comes from a man who has never belonged to a gym, who has exercised in his basement with modest equipment for decades, and who doesn’t bear an ounce of pretension. Yet he very quickly identified the “old people” equipment in his community’s fitness center.

Senior living community operators are in a tight spot when they try to cater to current residents but build space, programming, and services that they hope will appeal to future residents. The fitness center tour and post-tour discussion with my dad is no exception, and it’s exactly the reason that any operator engaging in a fitness center build—whether as part of brand new construction or as a positioning project—needs to thoughtfully and carefully establish their fitness center layout.

Design of the space and the equipment you select matters. Both elements can profoundly impact the residents’ experience in the space. And when your community is continually battling someday syndrome as a barrier to getting prospects to make the move, how you outfit the fitness center can also be a factor.

CCRC Fitness Center Equipment and Design Considerations

Here are a few things to think about with respect to senior living fitness center design and equipment that engages current residents and attracts future prospects: 

  • Create your group fitness studio and your fitness center as distinctly separate spaces. We see a lot of first-draft designs come with an accordion or partition wall between the two rooms. There is no actual utility for that design; and in fact, it may limit how both rooms can be used. 
  • Build size for the future. If your community is poised for a phase two or three that adds residential units and creates more potential fitness center members, build the initial fitness spaces for growth. 
  • Lay out the equipment with accessibility in mind. Put the equipment most likely to be used by your most frail residents nearest to your main entrance so that it is easy to access. 
  • Create clear sight lines for the fitness management staff. Design the spaces so that staff will have the greatest visibility possible for all areas. Part of the reason for having staff managing your fitness program is for participant safety. It’s tough to keep people safe when you can’t see them exercising.
  • Choose equipment that is built with an older adult in mind, but that doesn’t scream “old.” While there is currently a gap in the marketplace for a complete line of strength and cardio equipment well suited for this audience, that doesn’t mean you can’t buy beautiful and functional equipment that will work well both now and in the future. Contact me to get an operator’s perspective on the equipment that’s available

No doubt you have a lot to consider with a fitness center design project. If you’re a visual learner like me, you might get some inspiration from looking at a few of the projects we’ve been privileged to support.

Click on the button below to download a sample of our work!

Fitness Center Design

Topics: CCRC senior fitness management CCRC fitness center senior living communities fitness center for seniors nifs fitness center management

How One Senior Living Community Got Focused on Brain Fitness

senior_puzzleMost senior living communities have a variety of group fitness classes on their calendars focused on balance, muscular strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health, and the clients we work with are no different. But we’ve landed on a program tied in with our group fitness classes for seniors that has become wildly popular with the residents. It turns out, it’s been a great way to draw more participants into the exercise program, too.

The Popularity of Brain Activities

At one of our client’s communities we have many of the typical activities to stimulate the mind: card games, lectures, forums, resident committees, etc. And at one point we offered a “Memory” workshop series. This was so popular that we added a word of the day and the TriBond® game to our daily information board in the fitness center, along with including puzzles in our newsletter.

Over time, we noticed that more and more people started coming to the fitness center to learn the word of the day, to get the TriBond® puzzle, and to ask questions about the puzzle in the newsletter. It was obvious that our residents were craving ways to challenge their minds, and we were eager to respond in ways that would help them keep their minds strong or increase their abilities.

So we added a brain fitness class to our group fitness schedule, and that class is thriving each week! In the weekly offering, our residents have a wonderful time challenging their minds. They learn new games like Sudoku, and play old games like Memory™. They also engage in history trivia questions and challenges. One of our residents recently named all 44 presidents, in order, off the top of her head!

How to Start Brain Fitness Classes at Your CCRC

We’ve started offering this type of class at our other senior living client sites with similar popularity. Here’s some advice on how you can get it started in your community:

  • Hold an event such as a brain fitness fair for your residents to see how fun and important it is to continue to work on the mind.
  • During the event, pay attention to what the residents like and don’t like. This will help you build a class structure that works for them.
  • Do not always make the class what they like. In order to strengthen the mind we need to challenge it. Typically the things that we do not like are the things that we find challenging.
  • Begin putting puzzles in your weekly or monthly newsletters.

Brain Class Structure

For the structure of the class, consider the following ideas:

  • Begin with a task that can be done while waiting for everyone to come in and sign in. (Example: Write your name with your non-dominant hand or with both hands at the same time.)
  • Have classical music playing in the background. Some studies show this increases the brainwaves that stimulate thought process.
  • Come prepared with four to five activities. Make it a variety of word games, long-term memory/short term memory, and deductive reasoning. Here are some sites that might provide some ideas:,,, and
  • Leave time for discussion in small groups and then time with you for answers.
  • Have the answers for all activities to share with the participants. (The residents will be angry if you don’t!)
  • If you do not finish all activities, consider giving “homework.”

Learn more about physical exercises that help improve cognition here.

Let us know how your brain fitness program works in your setting! We’d love to keep sharing these kinds of ideas to improve the health of the residents we work with. 

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Topics: CCRC active aging senior living communities brain health cognitive function resident wellness programs memory