Corporate Fitness and Active Aging

Senior Living: Questions to Ask Before Buying Fitness Equipment


ThinkstockPhotos-97770391-1.jpgThere are a lot of news releases lately outlining new construction or expansion projects in senior living. Many of those projects include outfitting a brand new or dramatically overhauled community fitness center.

Because the construction projects are typically significant and encompass more space than just a fitness center, it’s easy to get lost in the details about treadmill features when you need to answer questions about flooring, HVAC demands, city permits, and more. And even within the four walls of the senior fitness center, there are several other things to be concerned about beyond simply selecting the equipment. For more on that, check out our blog on 5 things to avoid when building a fitness center for senior living communities.

In order to help you head off potential dilemmas specifically around what exercise equipment might be best for your resident fitness center, this blog outlines some of the key questions to ask before buying fitness equipment. These aren’t meant to be comprehensive, but they should provide a solid starting point to get to the bottom of determining what’s best for your residents. As you’re working with the reps, make sure you’re clear about the age and ability level of your intended user. The same is true if you want to send out residents to test equipment at a local gym (sales reps may offer this). Make sure you send residents who are a good representation of those you expect will use your updated fitness amenities.

And one last note before you dive into the questions. We do not sell any exercise equipment, nor do we receive any benefit from equipment manufacturers. These questions are based purely on our years of experience helping clients design and equip their fitness centers for a range of audiences.

Strength Equipment

It comes in a lot of shapes and sizes.

  • Pneumatic: An air compressor regulates the amount of pressure against which the user works.
  • Selectorized: Plate adjusted, with the user pulling out and reinserting a pin for the desired weight.
  • Band technology: Weights are replaced with bands used as pulleys to generate resistance.
  • Body resistance: The user works against his or her own body weight (and gravity) to generate a workload.

When it comes to thinking through questions for your sales reps, consider these:

  • How is the resistance adjusted by the user?
  • What is the starting weight for each piece and can that be lowered in our order if our population needs that?
  • Are the seat heights, leg positions, seat backs, etc. adjustable per user? If so, how are they adjusted?
  • Is there any other equipment I need to purchase to make your equipment fully functional for us? (Some equipment requires a computer, other equipment requires a compressor, etc.).
  • What is the warranty on the equipment?
  • (When the equipment comes with a software component…) Do you provide training to our onsite staff to learn how to make the best use of your software? Do you offer technical support?

Cardiovascular Equipment

In general, your fitness facility should have a range of cardiovascular equipment, including treadmills, ellipticals, recumbent cross-trainers (think NuStep or a similar product), and bikes. In some cases, we’ve seen rowing machines included, too. (They provide a great workout; we’re just not sure it’s an ideal piece for most residents.)

Some basic questions are true for each type of cardiovascular equipment:

  • What’s the warranty?
  • Who is the warranty-certified repair company in our area?
  • What are the power needs for this piece?
  • Can I see the detailed screen of the computer console? (You’ll want to see how user-friendly it is for your audience.)
  • Does it connect with any wearable technology, or can we opt for an interactive console?
  • If we don’t elect an interactive console now, can we change them out later?

Treadmills

  • What’s the step height on your treadmills?
  • What’s the starting speed?
  • Does the unit decline or only incline?

Ellipticals

  • Is the piece rear- or side-entry?
  • What is the clearance threshold or step height to access the piece?
  • Does it come with stationary arms?
  • Does the elliptical require external power? If not, (1) ask what the starting wattage requirement is, and (2) ask if there is an optional AC adapter. If no adapter is available, note that we’ve found anything requiring a starting wattage higher than about 15W is too difficult for many residents to power.

Bikes

You’ll want to consider traditional upright bikes and recumbent bikes. Matrix offers a hybrid bike that presents an interesting option as well.

  • Do you have an upright bike with a pass-through design?
  • Does the bike require external power? If not, (1) ask what the starting wattage requirement is, and (2) ask if there is an optional AC adapter. If no adapter is available, note that we’ve found anything requiring a starting wattage higher than about 15W is too difficult for many residents to power.

General Questions

These are general questions to ask any vendor regardless of the type of equipment you’re considering buying.

  • What’s the primary market your company serves? (Ask for clarity in sales volume.)
  • Can I talk to a practitioner who has used your equipment with an 85+-year-old population?

This last round of questions has nothing to do with the function of the equipment for the residents. It’s really focused on details for your overall fitness program and the role the equipment plays in your fitness center, which should be a hallmark space in the community.

  • Can I customize colors on frame and upholstery (for strength equipment) to match our brand?
  • Are you able/willing to customize your equipment with our logo?

You’re making a significant investment by building a new fitness center or overhauling your current community fitness space. Make sure you get the right equipment to increase the chances for a vibrant and successful fitness program that will support this generation of residents and the next. These questions will help guide and inform your decisions, but if you want additional support from a partner who does this for a living, click on the button below to learn more about how we can consult for you.

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

 

Topics: nifs fitness management CCRC fitness center resident wellness programs fitness center for seniors

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

Why Nobody's Using Your New Resident Fitness Center (Part 1 of 3)

empty fitness centerFrom the wellness consulting and fitness management work we’ve done with our clients over the last several years, we’ve seen our share of essentially empty fitness centers and pools in senior living communities.

It’s sad.

So often, community leadership invests substantial capital dollars for dedicated fitness spaces including rooms that hold the exercise equipment, rooms devoted to group exercise classes, and additional (and typically significant) spaces for aquatics amenities. The result after construction is that the spaces are beautiful—even stunning.

But these same swanky spaces, unfortunately, often aren’t functional. Sometimes they contain the wrong equipment or a dysfunctional design. Most commonly, the biggest roadblock to a thriving fitness program is that these spaces weren’t considered under any type of strategic plan, so programming of the space is largely ineffective for the residents and typically disjointed from the rest of the community.

The result is a beautiful new space that sits unused.

If you’re wondering why you poured so much money into this non-revenue generating space that appears to provide no additional benefit to the residents, or how to avoid this phenomenon, stick with me on this blog series, where I’ll write about the following:

  • Your capital investment isn’t the end of your commitment.
  • Your residents need quality leadership in order to engage in the fitness services.
  • Your marketing and sales team may be missing the mark when selling fitness to residents.

Part 1: Your Capital Investment Isn’t the End of Your Commitment

It’s a big deal: You spent a lot of time with your developers on crafting a new space (or overhauling an existing one) that will match your community’s appearance, and that you hope will be a welcome addition (or change) for your residents. It’s not cheap, either, but you’ve done your due diligence, secured the funds, and designed the heck out of the space(s).

The capital investment may be so substantial that it feels like enough.

Alas, your time and your money are, in fact, not enough. There are important details to consider regarding the design of the space—details that can make or break the overall function of the amenities. Read our blog on key things to avoid when you’re building a fitness center in senior living to find out more about common pitfalls when designing a new fitness space for senior living.

But you can’t stop with the physical space. This isn’t an “if you build it, they will come” type of project. You will need to cultivate a strategic plan for effective use of the space after it’s open for use.

Maybe that strategy is the job of the activities director.

Or maybe…the community needs a whole new approach to resident wellness that puts a wellness director at the top of the activities food chain. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Wellness is a way of life, not an activity, and it should be cultivated accordingly. Do the activities drive the wellness program in your community, or does the wellness culture dictate the activities? Answering that question according to the organization you are striving to be will help you figure out the hierarchy question.

Regardless of who is in charge of it, the strategy for effective use of the fitness center is really central to ensuring that this new space contributes positively to residents’ vitality. Questions for cultivating the strategy should include the following:

  • What is the goal, mission statement, or focus of wellness in the community, and in what ways do you expect that your fitness program will contribute to that end?
  • What investment needs to be made in staffing for the fitness center? (The answer to this question varies by community, but I can just about guarantee you that fee-based personal trainers and group fitness instructors are not enough.)
  • How will you know you’re achieving success in your programs? Will you mark it with simple participation goals, or will you be reviewing health outcomes, satisfaction, or other outcomes in your programming?
  • If you’re changing your activities/wellness hierarchy, how will you communicate those changes to the community and how will you reinforce your emphasis on this culture shift? Will that information need to be communicated to the residents? If so, how will you do that?
  • What operating decisions need to be scrutinized in light of your new emphasis on resident wellness? Does it make sense for your organization to make this strategic shift by including wellness for your employees at the same time?

To be sure, these questions, when thoughtfully addressed, will likely lead to more questions. Be patient; cultivating a strategy takes time and often requires continuous tweaking. It is a journey well worth taking, both for the benefit of your business and for fulfilling you commitment to facilitate a vibrant lifestyle for your residents.

In part 2 of this blog series, I’ll write about the importance of the right leadership in your fitness program. Make sure you have subscribed to our blog so you don’t miss a beat on this series and other hot topics we’re covering.

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Topics: senior center solutions senior fitness management CCRC fitness center engagement senior living community marketing fitness center for seniors nifs fitness center management

Wellness in Senior Living: Kit vs. Culture

senior woman stretchingUnless you live under a really, really big rock, you have no doubt heard about the importance of robust wellness opportunities as central to a successful senior living community. There have been some fabulous profiles lately on organizations that are doing an amazing job of connecting their residents and others in the surrounding areas to opportunities to live well. Two recent examples highlighted by LeadingAge are these:

What strikes me about both of these offerings is that they are wellness initiatives. I don’t know that the communities packaged them that way, but in fact, they are a model of innovative wellness programming at its very best.

The other element I find compelling about these offerings is that they’re culturally driven. That is to say that this type of creativity can only come from an organization that believes that living well is truly central to its brand.

When your senior living communities investigate what’s possible under the umbrella of resident wellness, it’s important to consider what it is you truly want to build. Is wellbeing something that leadership wants to cultivate, explore, and weave into the very fabric of the community? Or is the community focus elsewhere for now, such that wellness is more of a task that needs to be crossed off the long list?

Looking for the Wellness Kit?

If wellness for your community is about crossing something off the to-do list, then you might be looking for a kit solution. There are organizations that can help you, when you buy into their model, to plant monthly wellness initiatives at your community. Your activities director can typically fold them into the monthly calendar, and you can begin to dip your toe into the wellness water to get a sense of how your residents will receive programming and activities built around traditional wellness pillars like nutrition, physical activity, and so on.

But that's not how we do it. We're not about the monthly theme, unless it's right for your residents, and we're not about the pre-packaged materials, unless they've proven their value.

Wellness Culture Means Cultivating a Lifestyle in Senior Living

At the end of the day, a wellness culture is where we need to be headed. When we adopt a healthy culture as the way of life we’re building for residents, then we start to grasp what’s really possible.

But here’s the thing: culture is person-driven, not program-driven. There are not enough programs in the world to build a culture. Wellness is a way of life, not an activity, and it should be cultivated accordingly. Here are a few considerations if you’re contemplating the challenging and rewarding work that is wellness culture building in a retirement community:

  • Determining a hierarchy: Building a wellness culture means giving consideration to hierarchy for wellness and activities (or leisure services, or life enrichment, or whatever your organization calls the events coordinator at your community). I would challenge you to think about whether activities actually rolls up under wellness instead of wellness being a branch of activities. If you buy into the idea that wellness is a way of life rather than an activity, then challenging the status quo that activities is at the top of the programmatic/community calendar food chain warrants significant thought.
  • Hiring a wellness director: Building a wellness culture requires a dedicated and competent professional blazing the trail. I’ve written about hiring a fitness professional for your community. The principles in that blog apply to hiring a wellness director as well.
  • Thinking progressively and strategically: Building a wellness culture means thinking differently about how you program, and it requires a commitment to moving beyond the bocce tournament you’ve always done. It also requires you to strategically think through what program data you need, and how you’ll use the data to inform your next culture-building steps.

Make no mistake, building a culture is no easy task and you don’t ever really arrive. You just keep learning, building, and growing. You keep evolving to meet and anticipate the needs of your audience. You keep striving for the experience of a life well lived, for breadth and depth of lifestyle choices that provide meaning for each individual.

If this sounds daunting, it is. The wellness kit idea is much simpler to understand and to execute. But the real richness lies in the proverbial road less traveled. Partner organizations, including ours, can help you map out a path to get started.

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

 

Topics: nifs fitness management senior center solutions senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center health culture fitness center for seniors

Senior Fitness: Building a Better Fitness Center

Senior living communities are spending a lot of time and resources today responding to the consumer's demand for opportunities to live well.  We see those responses translated into a variety of services and amenities that speak to wellness, and specifically exercise opportunities and fitness centers are one of the most common wellness elements in senior living.  Unfortunately, a lot of communities are still operating with exercise areas that are outdated and less than friendly for residents.  But money is tight, and allocating capital for improvements to existing exercise spaces or building brand new fitness centers is not a decision to be made lightly.  If you commit to investing in that type of capital improvement, you need to do it right. 

Questions about space allocation, design, equipment selection, programming, and liability can be overwhelming.

As you might expect, in my wellness consulting work at retirement communities, I get asked a lot of questions about new construction and rehabbing existing spaces.  I've answered some of the most common questions in a blog on the top 5 list of things to avoid when building a fitness center for senior living.

In a little bit deeper dive on key questions related to space design, size, and equipment, we hosted a "Build a Better Fitness Center" webinar, as part of our Build Vitality series.  The recording is below.  When you watch the 30 minute webinar, you find out more about the following:  

  • how to design/redesign a fitness area,
  • how to make sound exercise equipment selections for your residents,
  • what practices and policies need to be in place to effectively manage your liability, and
  • how to program the fitness areas for optimal engagement.

View the full Build a Better Fitness Center 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 Build a Better  Fitness Center Webinar

Topics: active aging senior wellness programs senior fitness management CCRC fitness center Fitness Center fitness center for seniors