Bethany Garrity, on Wed, Nov 30, 2016
While the size and shape of fitness spaces can vary dramatically from one senior living community to the next, it is very common for there to be at least some dedicated space with exercise equipment for resident use. It’s also quite common for communities to offer group exercise classes as part of the activity program. In some cases, communities also offer a personal training service.
However, that’s often where the fitness-related services for seniors stop. Below are three additional considerations that will elevate your exercise program to better serve current residents and to attract prospects who are looking for their next home.
Establishing a membership practice for your fitness center will serve a few key purposes.
Many of today’s residents haven’t engaged in regular exercise outside of their lives in your community, so it’s intimidating for them to approach a treadmill, recumbent bike, or strength equipment. Providing residents with an expert who can create an exercise program based on individual goals and limitations is a great way to help a novice exerciser start to understand how to use the equipment. Following up the exercise prescription service with regular support during each workout demonstrates a real commitment to physical wellness in your community.
Senior Fitness Testing
Getting a baseline on your residents’ fitness level is a great way to help them understand the progress they can make in the fitness center to either maintain or improve their physical well-being. The senior fitness test provides those results and feeds well into the exercise prescription service outlined above. There is inexpensive software (and a manual) that can be used to administer the testing and provide the participant with results. The equipment for each test is also relatively inexpensive and includes items like cones, a step bench, and a timer, among other equipment.
In addition to residents benefitting from their individual results, the community can use aggregate fitness testing data to determine strengths and weaknesses within the fitness program so that classes and other programs appropriately target residents’ fitness needs.
To be fair, the membership piece could be managed by a lifestyle director. But the exercise prescription and fitness assessment pieces need to be managed by a trained exercise professional who understands the ins and outs of prescribing exercise for older adults. Read about how to hire a qualified fitness professional for your community, or consider working with us because NIFS managers provide these key services as part of our standard senior living fitness programming. Or, click the button below if you’re looking for more ideas about what you should expect from a robust fitness program.
Bethany Garrity, on Mon, Apr 27, 2015
Several 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.
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.
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:
Emily Davenport, on Tue, Mar 10, 2015
In 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.
Kickstart 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.
Emily Davenport, on Tue, Mar 3, 2015
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.
Part 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.
Make 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.
Bethany Garrity, on Fri, May 16, 2014
There’s a lot of talk about what some in senior living call “someday syndrome.” It’s the phenomenon by which adults who have a lot to gain by moving to a retirement community for one reason or another put off the move, indicating they’ll make that change someday.
There are industry articles, LinkedIn discussion groups, and product/service provider blogs about this phenomenon. I’ve heard it in my own parents’ discussion about moving out of their house and into a community. They’re ready…sort of. Well, not really quite yet, but they’re taking steps to be ready. I think they’re like so many of their generation. They have very good reasons to put off leaving their house. What they’re missing are compelling reasons to make that difficult change and move into a senior living community.
In 2008 and for a few years afterward, there was a delay by older consumers largely because of the housing crisis connected with the great recession. But more recently, as the housing market has slowly made a turn for the better, someday syndrome remains. My parents and many of their contemporaries are waiting because they simply don’t see themselves, their lives, anywhere but in their current home.
In one of Steve Moran’s blogs, “Is Good good enough?,” he talks about recent trips to two better-than-average communities. And although he records being politely and promptly greeted as well as appropriately “sold” during his visit, he felt no connection to either location. He was given good marketing collateral and told quite a bit about both communities, but there was nothing in that messaging to provide unique, compelling, relatable, or personal connections. In short, if he were a prospect, he had no heartstring tug, no strong pull to move to either community.
In the end, Steve comes around to the idea of telling stories as a way to distinguish your community from those around you, and I think he’s right. The stories about residents, their family members, their lives at your community, and how the staff facilitate the very best for them are the essence of who you are.
The good news here is that you already have stories; if you’ve been in business a while, you quite possibly have tons of them. But the hard work lies ahead in figuring out how to use them to communicate your culture, your way of life, as a tool for inviting prospects to join your community family. One of the places you should be looking for stories is within your wellness program.
If we look at broad brushstrokes of what a CCRC can offer to prospects, there are two big categories: safety/security and lifestyle. Both categories are clear distinguishers in terms of providing more/better than what a prospect is able to achieve in her own home. The continuum of care with qualified and passionate clinicians, along with related services (therapy, podiatry, etc) all within the four walls of your community is simply not achievable for an individual who remains at home. And if your organization is on the cutting edge of opportunities for education, service, growth, and camaraderie in your wellness programming, you no doubt have robust programming that no one individual could so easily experience living in her home.
If you are a healthy individual in your 70s or 80s and you’re considering moving out of your home into a retirement community, which of those two messages is likely to pull you through someday syndrome and toward relocating in a community setting: how you’ll be cared for when you’re sick or dying, or how you can experience new opportunities and enrich your wellbeing as you live at the community?
Let me offer a word of caution here. The idea of using lifestyle to combat “someday syndrome” only works when your lifestyle programming is truly compelling, diverse, individually oriented, and life affirming. If you calendar is full of various card games, bingo, the occasional trip, the occasional lecture, the same old group fitness classes, and the monthly podiatrist visit, there’s no lifestyle to sell and you won’t be different from the competition. Make no mistake: just because the calendar is full does not mean the events are expanding the horizons of your residents.
After years of working with our CCRC clients, here’s what we’ve learned about selling lifestyle:
If you’ve been nodding your head and you believe it’s time to elevate your community lifestyle both to serve your residents better and to create a true market differentiation for what you’re selling, check out this blog.
Bethany Garrity, on Thu, Mar 13, 2014
Your marketing and sales team may be missing the mark when selling fitness to residents.
I started this blog series talking about the importance of following all the way through on your capital investment for your resident fitness program. In part two of the series, I covered some basics on the importance of quality leadership as central to your community’s exercise strategy.
In this third part of the series, we’ll look at how your marketing and sales team can better tap into your fitness program as a sales tool. After all, once you nail the strategy and the staffing for your program, it only makes sense to make sure your marketing team can communicate your updated and comprehensive services to prospective residents.
Promoting Senior Lifestyle Benefits in Marketing Collateral
How does your community talk about wellness to prospects? How do you promote resident lifestyle in your collateral? If you haven’t given much thought to this, it’s definitely time to start. You’d have to be under a pretty big rock to have missed the continued rise to prominence that wellness is making in senior living.
And it’s because of that elevated importance that breezing through or ignoring your resident wellness amenities and services is no longer an option. Skipping over wellness in your collateral and marketing events is a huge mistake.
Promoting the Senior Wellness Program Effectively During Facility Tours
When I consult with communities, it’s really (frighteningly) common to talk with the marketing and sales staff and learn that they’re offering something like this during a tour:
“Now we’re walking past our pool and coming up next will be our exercise room. We have personal trainers and a lot of different types of group fitness classes available for you to try all week long.”
It’s like running through a checklist of “stuff” you’re throwing at a prospect. Dining, check. Exercise, check. Crafts, check. No stories, nothing a prospect can sink her teeth into and really consider how her life would be if she had access to those opportunities.
Typically, when the tour sounds like that, there is also a lack of marketing collateral about wellness, and there generally aren’t events for prospects that communicate how your community helps residents live well.
Sometimes the glossing over is because of a lack of confidence about the community’s amenities or services. Here’s the thing: you do not have to offer jaw-droppingly beautiful amenities in order to execute well on a message of well-living at your community. But you do need to have solid services with the right staff people behind that programming in order to market the lifestyle at your community effectively.
The right people plus the right program gets you the right stories you need to help prospects relate to what it will be like to live in your community. And that’s what you ultimately want, right? Happy residents are the ones who feel connected, who engage in more living, and who contribute to their own lives and the lives of those around them through the opportunities you offer.
If you’re looking for a place to start on more effective communication and marketing opportunities around resident wellness, look no further than some simple numbers.
Data Matters, and Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Differently
There are a number of areas in your wellness program where you can gather data, and I’m a big advocate for data because it’s crucial to determining success as well as to telling the story about what wellness is at a community. You can make a big impact in marketing messaging simply by spotlighting how many residents participate in your fitness programming. But you can’t capitalize on that number or message if you don’t actually have the data.
Consider a resident story that might look something like this:
“At ABC Community, our residents believe that moving your body is one of many ways to live well. In fact, they’re such big believers that 83% of them participate in our fitness programs on a regular basis. When Mrs. Jones moved here in 2007, she wasn’t much for exercise. In fact, she’d never been to a class, or walked on a treadmill. But after she met with our fitness manager and had her personalized program created, she started moving and hasn’t stopped.”
My hunch is that the pretend story I outlined would resonate with a lot of prospects who have never exercised, are a little afraid of it, and are entirely unsure how to get started. Unless you have a story to which the prospect can relate, the sales staff mentions “fitness center” and “trainer,” and the prospect automatically writes that off as a nice perk but one she’ll never use. And just like that, you’ve missed a chance to help the prospect see how living at your senior living community is not only different (she already knows that and it’s part of what’s keeping her from moving), but actually better than where she’s living now. Mrs. Jones—the resident in the testimonial—sounds like that prospect, probably looks like her, and she’s been able to live exceptionally well since she moved into your community. It’s compelling and reassuring, and it’s all backed by a wellness strategy that captures the data and the stories for use at the right times.
Now, getting that data and those stories is not rocket science, but it does require that you have the right personnel behind the wellness programming to facilitate a more strategic approach to resident lifestyle. You need health-oriented professionals (do not read that as “clinicians”) who have a head for numbers and a heart for people. If you need a refresher on the quality leadership part of this puzzle, return to part 2 in this series.
Bethany Garrity, on Thu, Mar 6, 2014
Your residents need quality leadership in order to engage in the fitness services.
There is a lot of movement in recent years for senior living communities to include expansive, thoughtfully designed fitness spaces in their new community development or refurbishment plans. Surveys have indicated that wellness is a priority for prospects, and we don’t really see that going away as the boomers look toward their next life and how they want to live that next chapter. (I know you’ve heard this a gajillion times, but they are coming, and no amount of burying your head in the sand will change that. Get ready or get out of the business of anticipating their needs and knocking their socks off.)
So if you read part 1 in this blog series, you read about how your investment in wellness cannot stop with capital dollars. In this section we’re focused on why your residents need quality leadership in order to engage in the fitness services.
What Quality Fitness Leadership Is Not
Let me start perhaps with a list of exclusion—a list of what quality leadership is not. It is not limited to a traditional 1990s model of group fitness classes and a very part-time, questionably qualified attendant. It is not a personal trainer service (fee-based or free). It is not a silo-style environment where fitness is an island operating independently of what’s happening with activities, or resident services, or dining or other continuums of the community.
If any of that sounds familiar, I have a bad news/good news message for you.
Quality Fitness Leadership Includes Core Skills and Soft Skills
Quality fitness leadership for your residents isn’t rocket science, but it does require some core skills that are learned through an accredited university curriculum, as well as soft skills that articulate a true passion for serving the residents in your community.
No doubt, you have more than enough practice at ferreting out the soft skills piece; after all, finding people who want to make a career out of serving our elders is your business. But understanding the technical competencies required in a qualified fitness center manager for your senior living community may be a little trickier. And then once you’ve found that qualified individual, you need to be prepared to take a strategic approach to on-boarding them in your community, which includes preparing both existing staff and residents for the new personnel.
The Keys to Hiring the Right Fitness Center Manager
There are a few keys about hiring that I think are helpful to communities venturing out in this process on their own. I’ve listed them quite briefly here:
I’m here to tell you that those capable and passionate professionals do exist. We’ve written extensively about how to hire and how to successfully onboard fitness and wellness professionals. If reading isn’t your thing, consider watching our webinar on building better wellness staff in our Build Vitality webinar series. To discuss in greater detail, drop me an email and we can take a closer look at what you need as well as options on how to get there. Subscribe to our blog now to make sure you can catch part 3 of this blog series: What marketing needs in order to really sell your new amenity to prospective residents.
Bethany Garrity, on Thu, Feb 27, 2014
From 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.
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:
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:
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.
Bethany Garrity, on Wed, Jan 22, 2014
At NIFS, we work in both corporate and senior living settings supporting client wellness strategies. After having done that work in diverse environments for various audiences over the last 25 years, we’ve learned a thing or two about what really works when you’re trying to promote living well.
Below are two key elements your wellness program may be missing.
We’ve hired hundreds of qualified wellness professionals to work with our many clients over the last two decades. And we’ve made some hiring mistakes. But we’ve learned from those situations and cultivated a more comprehensive interview and an effective onboarding process.
[Related Content: Tips for Hiring Your Own Fitness Professional]
Hire well and you’ll be well on your way to cultivating significant and meaningful opportunities for well-living for your employees or residents. If you don’t hire well for wellness, your strategy, programs, or initiatives are destined for mediocrity at best.
If you don’t know what skills and abilities you need for your wellness strategy, consider outsourcing your staffing to a partner. Let them be your expert so that you can spend your time and energy running your business.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: wellness is not rocket science. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t require strategic thinking and thoughtful planning. Wellness services should be part of a larger vision that is focused on creating engaging opportunities for well-living.
There is no shortage of valuable resources available for program ideas online. Join a few LinkedIn groups and you’ll soon begin to see engaging ideas and thoughtful discussion that can help take your programming to the next level. Or subscribe to our blog for digestable on-the-ground tips for wellness practitioners as well as high level strategy solutions for wellness leaders.
And let’s talk a little bit about data. How are you gathering it? What are you doing with the data you have? Burying your head in the sand on data is not an answer. I’ve written before on how to gather data that you can actually use in your wellness program. You really can’t afford to continue the work without making legitimate attempts to measure what you’re managing. Otherwise, how will you ever know if your efforts are making the desired impact?
Since we’re all about sharing the love and getting best practices out there for you to run with, I am very excited to announce our upcoming Best Practice Series that will launch in February 2014. There are two tracks:
Why not jumpstart your creativity with a little something that's worked in a similar environment for a similar audience. (Who doesn't want their job to be a little easier?!)