Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Senior Living Activities: Changing the Name or Changing the Notion

I read a blog recently on the Eden Alternative website about the power of language, in which the author quoted Alan A. Watts: “the menu is not the meal.” She was outlining her thoughts about words like “elder,” and “care partner,” and “home”—an important discussion! But the blog also got me thinking (as a good blog should) about lifestyle programming in communities. 

What If the Activities Director Was Called Something Else?

In the last five years, the senior living industry has started to make a title shift away from Activities Director and toward alternatives like Lifestyle Director, Life Enrichment Director, and Program and Events Director. Yet, this subtle shift in position naming, though necessary, is insufficient to make a true paradigm shift in how we support the elders who choose to reside in a senior living community. Changing the name is not the same as changing the notion.

I think the senior living industry as a whole is feeling a nudge (maybe it’s a push) toward doing better for our clientele. Consider the CCRC NameStorm from LeadingAge. The goal was to build a new potential name for Continuing Care Retirement Communities that would resonate with current and future buyers for this kind of product.

The idea about changing your activities department to your life enrichment department is the same: build something that resonates with your market. Still, as the Alan A. Watts quote hits home perfectly, simply changing the name is not enough. You can’t just create new name badges, update the job title on the position descriptions, order new business cards, and call it done. It’s not enough to simply change the name; we have to also (or at least) change the notion, the idea, of what activities can become in senior living. 

In fact, I would posit that you could actually keep the “activities department” if the staff are genuinely focused on building a better lifestyle for each resident. If they understand the personal passions, interests, desires, limitations, and fears of the members and provided “activities” that truly engaged those desires, the name “activities department” works just fine. 

But if your life enrichment department is still focused on filling the calendar to simply entertain residents, they are functioning the same way they were when you called them “Activities.” When they’re taking orders from a vocal minority of residents to drive largely homogeneous activities each month, they’re doing what they’ve always done, regardless of the name change.

Three Ways to Turn Activities into Life Enrichment

senior_group_ThinkstockPhotos-528133531

So how do we start to make that shift, away from the same old filling-the-calendar senior living activities to facilitating life-enriching opportunities that allow the residents to live the lives they want to live? Here are three ways to start looking beneath the surface of your calendar to cultivate meaningful experiences for your participants.

  1. Get to know your customer. How well do you really know the members of your community? Sure, you know names, and there are “regulars” you know better than most. But how well do you know where they came from and what makes them tick? Can you get information from the sales staff discovery process to start building a profile on each member? What questions do you need answered about each resident that could be folded into the discovery process so that newly moved-in members don’t feel like they’re being poked and prodded to provide you with answers? How can you use the intel you get to start building experiences for each resident?
  2. Get creative with your budget. Budgets are what they are, and changing the name of your department isn’t going to suddenly give you unlimited funds. Yet, if you’re listening to your residents, and understanding how they want to live your in community, you may find that helping them accomplish just that does not require additional FTEs or operating funds. Sometimes pairing folks with common interests can allow an organic opportunity to form without costing the community a thing. For example, suppose, through discovery, you learn that you have four residents who love to play chess and who are passionate about teaching others to play. Once you connect those four members and help them determine times to establish a “club,” or ways to connect with a local after-school program to teach the game they love, you’re on your way to fulfilling a social, intellectual, and vocational pursuit for your members. 
  3. Get familiar with the numbers. If you’re in the business of filling calendars, there’s no reason to gather data. You can see from the calendar that it’s full. But if you are focused on building purposeful programming that allows participants to live more full lives, I suggest you start to get a handle on whether your efforts are making an impact. For example, many of your residents may still be working. How does your 10am group fitness class resonate for them? Does it fit their schedules? I’ve heard a lot of directors say that no one will do activities (except the theatre or related events) after 4pm, so they don’t program anything after 4pm. Do you know that because of what happened historically, or do you know that because you know your members and you know the data?

I’ll be speaking at the 2015 LeadingAge Annual Meeting on this very idea of data from activities programming. If you’re reaching for a way to do better for the members you serve, consider putting my session on your schedule.

Topics: CCRC senior wellness programs data collection senior living communities program planning activities enrichment

Increasing Participation in Senior Living Fitness Programs (Part 2)

FitnessFreezeLogoIn part 1 of this blog, I wrote about a program we offered that helped us address an area of opportunity for resident participation in our senior living fitness programs. One of the core messages from that blog was how important tracking participation data is, over time, for sustaining a truly successful program. There is so much more to a robust fitness program in senior living than hosting classes, offering assessments, and teaching residents how to use the equipment.

Part 2: Kickstart or Fine-Tune Your Fitness Program

Tracking participation data in your fitness services is crucial for any new or long-established program. In new programs, you need to simply start by keeping an eye on growth in membership and making sure participation steadily increases as you launch the offerings. In this blog, I’ll touch on some key numbers and trends you should be watching. 

An established fitness program you might consider “good” can become GREAT by tracking and strategically using participation data for continuous improvement. There is not an end date at which you cut off these practices no matter how old your program is. In addition to talking about data practices for new fitness programs, I’ll offer tips below from NIFS data trends over the past couple of years to show how you can use these practices to fine-tune an established fitness program.

FFparticipantKickstart Your New Community Fitness Program

New members: Part 1 of this series covered NIFS Fitness Freeze and how the membership drive component recruited new participants to join the fitness center. NIFS has a new client in Lakewood, New Jersey, that began staffing with us in August 2014. Since our launch, we witnessed an initial surge in residents enrolling, and then the normal steady trickle of participants in the months thereafter. And then we ran the Fitness Freeze and it generated a record-setting surge in new members in a month to finish off the year. If you are tracking your new members from month to month, you can keep an eye on when membership or participation starts to trickle off or plateau and run a targeted campaign to rebuild your momentum. 

Participation frequency: We have another client in Mystic, Connecticut, that launched with us in May 2014. In addition to tracking their steadily increasing membership rates, we’re also following the percentage of residents who visit the fitness center 8+ times in a month. For this relatively new client, that percentage is steadily climbing as the membership percentage increases. This tells us that more residents are joining, and more importantly, they are adopting a consistent routine once they become members. 

Fine-Tune Your Established Fitness Program

Group fitness participation: We have a client in Stone Mountain, Georgia, that has had a fitness program and staffing since they opened their doors in 2004. NIFS started managing their fitness program in October 2011. Over the past couple of years, we’ve had a lot of success with participation growth in group fitness classes, and because our data offered proof of that growth, we were able to garner budgetary support for more instructors. In 2014, we added 11 new classes per month to the schedule, and the average number of participants per class each month stayed the same. In short, we brought the residents more classes, and they took full advantage!

Personal training participation: Another client in Phoenix, Arizona, is showing steady growth in their personal training program. In 2013, there were 302 personal training sessions conducted, and in 2014 there were 707 personal training sessions conducted. We’ve added personal training as a program option in their health center, and we are currently hiring another personal trainer to help keep up with the demand for that growing service.

Membership rates: Lastly, three different communities that have been up and running with us for over five years all showed an increase of at least 4% or more in membership in 2014 compared to 2013, with little change in occupancy at those communities. Steady programming efforts targeted to spark different resident interests over time can help your membership continue to grow. Diversity in program offerings is what really drives that continual increase in membership, especially at our well-established communities. 

There are countless ways that you can track and evaluate participation data in your fitness program, and half the battle is just getting started. Determine what you want to track, how you need to track it, and then how you can effectively report that data over time so that it is usable and easy to evaluate. We aren’t statisticians with intricate spreadsheets spending hours crunching data each month. We do, however, have sound reporting methods so that our staff can gather this valuable data to continually build and evolve best-in-class fitness programs at the senior living communities we serve.

 If you’d like to talk about how NIFS can support the development of tracking tools and a program evaluation framework for your community’s programming, find out more about NIFS' wellness consulting service

If you want to learn more about some of NIFS’ most successful and creative programs for senior living communities, click the Best Practices button below.

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Topics: senior fitness management participation data collection nifs best practices senior living fitness center program planning

Increasing Participation in Senior Living Fitness Programs (Part 1)

I’ve written in the past about how consistent tracking of participation data in your community fitness center can help improve and evolve your senior living fitness program over time. Here is a two-part follow up series on what you are missing if you aren’t tracking data from your program. These observations are built entirely on NIFS’ experience doing this work for our senior living client communities.

FitnessFreezeLogoPart 1: Prevent the Dip During the Holidays

Did your community fitness program experience a dip in participation during the busy holiday season? You’re in good company—we used to see that as well. But in 2014, we were able to reverse the trend thanks to a custom program designed to motivate residents to move more when exercise often takes the backseat to holiday parties and family gatherings. 

It all starts with collecting the right data. For example, we knew from our 2013 reporting that there was a marked decline in participation from November to December in exercise program participation. We saw this as an opportunity to do better, so we built a program called Fitness Freeze to prevent that specific dip in participation we see over those two months. Following the program, we evaluated the effectiveness of the program design against our desired outcomes. Here’s what we found:

Total visits: An 11% increase in total visits to the fitness center and group exercise classes from November to December 2014 compared to the same months in 2013.

New members: An 8% increase in new members signing up to participate in the fitness center from November to December 2014 compared to the same months in 2013.

Appointment volume: A 26% increase in the number of appointments conducted from November to December 2014 compared to the same months in 2013.

We know that residents are already busy and preoccupied in December, so we wanted to make the program as simple as possible for them to be successful. Here are just a few of the design elements that contributed to Fitness Freeze’s success:

No elaborate tracking logs or point system: Residents don’t need one more thing on their “to-do” list, so keep it simple! Residents had to sign-in as they normally do to the fitness center and we took care of the rest. Our goal was to help residents be consistent in visits, even if their workout time was shorter than normal. If a resident exercised for at least 10 minutes, three times a week, they earned a snowflake that hung in the fitness center with their name on it.

FFdecorMake it visual: The individual snowflakes were a great way to decorate the fitness center with some seasonal cheer and residents LOVED being able to show off to visiting family and friends how many snowflakes they earned. It was eye catching, provided an easy avenue for discussion, and offered a constant reminder to the participants to stay on track. 

Recruit, recruit, recruit: As resident talk about the snowflakes on display in the fitness center spread throughout the community, residents who weren’t fitness center members yet learned that they could earn a snowflake just by joining in December. It created a fun and easy way for residents who might be on the fence about joining to take the final step and feel included among the ranks of our regulars. 

The Fitness Freeze was born out of our constant efforts to do better, which include a strong focus on data as well as routine evaluation of program effectiveness. Once we identified holiday-time as an opportunity for improvement, we built a tool to address that challenge. It’s a tangible and practical example of a targeted campaign to boost the participation in a given month. 

Watch for part 2 of this blog to learn about the value of evaluating data trends in brand-new fitness programs as well as in well-established programs from year to year.

Checkout more great programming from NIFS Fitness Management with our Best Practice Series.

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Topics: senior fitness management participation data collection senior living fitness center program planning

Corporate Wellness: Of the People, By the People, and For the People

What’s happening in corporate wellness programs right now could be characterized as something of a revolt. Well, revolt might be a little dramatic (don’t think Arab Spring), but perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that those who are the target of carrot/stick employee wellness strategies are pushing back.

They’re pushing back on what has been conventional wisdom for a while: that health-risk assessments and biometric screenings are central (dare I say foundational?) to a sound, data-driven corporate wellness initiative. Employees are pushing back on penalties for not playing, and they’re pushing back on programs that brand failure for anyone who doesn’t achieve arbitrarily selected thresholds for biometric markers. They’re growing intolerant of workplace cultural norms that scream hypocrisy in the face of company wellness policies.  

As someone involved in the world of corporate health, you’d think I would land squarely on the side of gathering the data and using it to capture ROI. But I don’t; it’s just not that black and white.

Why All the Numbers All of the Time?

What I’m seeing in the industry is that corporate wellness providers bow to the number-focus of the CFO or the CEO and communicate in ROI-speak that uses words and phrases like engagement and human capital. To the untrained eye, you’d think “engagement” and “human capital” would have something to do with…well, humans. But it turns out, most of the time they have more to do with participation quotas, biometric thresholds, and productivity benchmarks than with the actual people who need tools, resources, and support to make healthier choices.

Wellness vendors position and market themselves by spouting figures and “facts” (and I use that word loosely), quoting studies and experts (should I use that word loosely, too?). They put into print ridiculous statistics that have ridiculous consequences—all in the name of numbers, data, and ROI.

Raise Your Hand If You Launched a Career in Corporate Wellness to Calculate ROI.

Accountants are passionate about numbers. Fitness specialists are passionate about people. Seriously, most of us got into this business because we were passionate about forming relationships with people so that they would trust we had their best interest in mind when we suggested resources that would help them make healthier choices. As an industry, we’ve largely forgotten our roots, which grew from wanting to help people.

So who’s to blame? Maybe this isn’t the CEO’s fault; maybe it’s just the way of the world. Maybe it’s the almighty dollar we should be blaming. (I predict a comment that blames the government.) Who knows, maybe it’s my fault. I don’t know where the blame goes, but I don’t think it really matters at this point. We’ve simply swung the pendulum too far onto the numbers side of the equation and we forgot about the people.

You know, the people—the individuals who have complicated, busy, overwhelming and typically unhealthy lives. Like the 56-year-old woman with high blood pressure and back pain who is raising her grandchildren and who has no time to take care of herself. Or the single working parent who works by day, goes to school by night, and who is doing everything he can to ensure his daughter has a better life. He struggles to find time to grocery shop, not to mention cook a meal. And then there’s the hourly call center employee who feels hovered-over by her supervisor, who smokes (though she wants to quit but isn’t sure where to start), and who is pregnant with her first child.

These Employees Need Our Help.

They need a relationship with a wellness professional who cares more about the individual accomplishments of the few than the participation quota of the company. They need someone to stand up and say, “I care about you, and I am here to listen to you, to help you find the tools and resources you need. I’m here to help you celebrate your successes and pick you up when you falter on your path to better health.”

Because at the end of the day, if we don’t move the needle on the health of the individuals, then the corporate strategy means nothing. If the only behavior we incentivize is for people to go get their wellness forms signed so they can “get cash for doing it,” we’ve missed an opportunity.

what's wrong with wellness

Topics: corporate wellness employee wellness employee health and wellness ROI data collection corporate fitness centers; return on investement businesses demanding work schedule

Why Capturing Corporate Fitness Center ROI Is Like Spotting a Unicorn

unicornFact:

Generating reliable and accurate ROI on a corporate wellness program (I mean the whole thing--biometric screenings, absenteeism, presenteeism, HRA, wellness programming/activities, EAP, etc.) is really, really, really challenging. It requires lots of money, and lots of really smart people who’ve done that kind of work more than once or twice.

Fact:

Piecing out the impact of your corporate fitness center as a standalone element and then determining reliable and accurate ROI from that single piece of your overall strategy is, well, about as likely as spotting a unicorn.

You may be thinking to yourself, “But wait…I just saw an article on ROI for corporate fitness and that said 3:1 or 5:1 or 7:1 returns were possible. What’s with the unicorns and the impossibility of calculating ROI for corporate fitness?” It’s true that there is a continuous stream of articles about wellness ROI, and I suspect that there are business development teams for corporate wellness vendors who are armed to the gills with literature that “proves” why their service/product generates the best ROI for said client.

You see, there’s a lot of posturing in the corporate wellness market. The industry boasts some very powerful vendors--some of whom have the money and smarts to do the work required in order to generate reliable and accurate ROI. The industry also has a lot of other vendors who don’t have those tools, but who are still competing against those who do. Of this second group, there are two types: the vendor who reports ROI that is neither reliable nor accurate (unicorn anyone?), and the vendor who doesn’t report ROI.

Honestly, it’s time for employers to stop beating the ROI drum. (And I’m not the only one who thinks so. Read this article, or this one, or this one.)

ROI is hard to capture because corporate wellness is complex. There are a lot of moving parts, and to date, the industry has not been able to come together on metrics that are consistent. While this is true for most of the agreed-upon elements of a corporate wellness strategy, let’s just pull out corporate fitness to get a sense of the level of complexity we’re dealing with overall.

There are a variety of data points that can be captured for corporate fitness programs:

Membership:

Any vendor worth its salt will have some kind of prescreening process in place that, once completed, will allow the employee to join the fitness center. (Don’t just take my word for it; check out the standards provided by the American College of Sports Medicine in its Health/Fitness Facility Standards and Guidelines text.) Some vendors skip this process and everyone is instantly a member because they are employees. So the organization with this process instantly reports higher membership (100%!) than the vendor who requires a responsible process be completed prior to gaining membership.

Fitness assessments:

Field tests to assess the fitness level of a participant are highly variable and the chosen tests can sway the results depending on the population. It’s the nature of a field test; they aren’t as accurate as in the lab.

Visit data:

By now, software to track utilization is widely available at fairly minimal cost. However, if the business isn’t willing to pay for the software, fitness staff are left to track visit data with a manual tally. In either case, software or sign-in sheets, there are issues that can result in significant errors in data collection. Even if we forgive those errors or find a way to account for them, vendors count visit groups differently. “Frequent visitors” might be represented by members with at least one visit per month for vendor A, but vendor B may determine that at least one visit per week is required to achieve “frequent visitor” status.

Mixing those variables quickly creates a lot of inconsistency from one program to the next, making it exceptionally hard to compare apples to apples. Then you have other related data to consider—like gym membership subsidy and how to count employee-users of that benefit against or with your corporate fitness center users. Similarly, how do you capture the value, health benefits, and cost of employees who never step foot in the corporate fitness center but maintain their own exercise regimen at home?

So if your CFO isn’t going to sniff out ROI on your corporate wellness strategy or any of the individual elements like your worksite fitness center, what should you be looking to for data and outcomes you can believe? Rest assured, I’m not suggesting we revert back to all fluff and feel-good for employee wellness. As an alternative to traditional ROI, consider shifting your thinking toward value. To find out more about what I mean, check a two-part blog I wrote about a year ago where I outlined some ways to think about value from your corporate fitness center. You can read part one here and part two here.

If you're looking for how to build the very best corporate fitness center you can for your employees, consider our short webinar series:  The Guide to Successful Corporate Fitness Centers.

Guide to Successful Corporate Fitness Centers
Topics: corporate fitness corporate fitness centers corporate fitness managment ROI data collection corporate fitness centers; return on investement data

Benefits of Tracking Participation Data in Community Fitness Programs

senior womanIf you aren’t already doing so, tracking participation levels in your community fitness offerings is a must! This includes collecting resident visits to the fitness center, participation in individual classes on the group fitness calendar, and participation in fitness center appointments and services.

One obstacle for many communities in doing this is evaluating whether they have a dedicated point person who can regularly support this effort. Participation will need to be tracked, documented, and evaluated on a regular basis for it to be of any value.

Tracking this data is not rocket science. We are talking about some basic spreadsheets to serve as weekly sign-in sheets for the fitness center and group classes, and then some sort of a  weekly or monthly tracking template to regularly document the information. It simply takes establishing a system that can be communicated to the entire fitness staff and then consistently followed through on from week to week.

Benefits to the Community

Although it can be a challenge to determine the return on investment your fitness program is lending to your community, regularly tracking participation levels and establishing target goals for the program can be great banter for your marketing department when it speaks with prospects. Meet with your marketing team and tell them about the data you are going to gather from month to month to make sure it is being documented in a way that will serve their purposes when promoting the healthy lifestyle culture at your community.

While they may not have statistics on decreased falls at the community or improved quality of life as a result of fitness programming (although many communities are moving to a model in which they are able to collect this data), marketing can share with prospects and their families that XX% of the resident population are active participants in the fitness program or that XX number of residents regularly attend your community balance class. This hard data puts a backbone behind the legitimacy of your program for marketing to work with beyond, “we have a lot of residents who come to our fitness center and balance class is their favorite!”

Benefits for Fitness Staff

Ready…aim…fire! Without regular participation data to evaluate when deciding on your next fitness program, you may as well step up to pull the trigger and go straight from “ready” to “fire” without an opportunity to aim. The aim should involve looking at ebbs and flows in visits to the fitness center or participation levels in classes and creating targeted programs to increase the number and frequency of participants. Without the opportunity to aim, it will be more difficult to anticipate your residents’ needs.

Even worse, don’t keep a poorly attended program running just because you’ve always offered it. I guarantee you have at least one class on your monthly calendar in which participation has trickled off in recent months or even years. You may be saying to yourself, “Yes, but those three participants still really enjoy the class.” While that may be true, you may be neglecting a dozen more residents who have a desire for a different class while you are pouring resources into a sinking ship. Allow participation data to be a free resource to advance your community fitness program by allowing your staff to aim toward meaningful goals and hopefully more effective programs.

Benefits for Residents

The greatest benefit of all from tracking participation is how it can better serve the residents of your community! Everything that was stated in the previous section on benefiting the staff will of course carry over to benefit the residents through more meaningful program options. By tracking participation data, your fitness staff will be able to further evaluate who is coming to different classes or visiting the fitness center and how often they are doing so…and conversely, who is not! This is truly where relationships are made between the fitness staff and residents!

For example, the fitness staff will have the ability to note whether a three time per week balance class participant suddenly isn’t coming. A follow-up phone call to a resident noting their absence and welcoming them back makes a huge impact in resident adherence and satisfaction. Furthermore, targeted membership campaigns can be tailored to attract residents not currently participating in the program. Without the data to regularly report who is coming to what and when, these outreach efforts to residents would not be possible in a strategic and effective manner.

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Topics: senior fitness management CCRC fitness center ROI participation data collection