4 Proven Strategies to Increase Participation in Senior Living Wellness and Fitness Programs, Part 2

A little over a year ago, we launched HUR Heroes, a monthly column that spotlights senior living professionals who are doing incredible things to enrich the lives of the seniors in their community through a commitment to health and wellness. One of the most popular topics of those conversations is participation. Nearly every senior living professional we’ve ever talked with agrees that physical fitness is foundational to the quality of life available for every resident. But, simply knowing that physical fitness is important is generally not enough to get seniors into the gym on a consistent basis.

Many of our HUR Heroes have looked the challenge of participation in the eye, examined it from all angles, and come up with effective solutions that we felt are worth sharing. We outlined 4 of these participation strategies earlier this year. In this post, we want to offer 4 more.

1. Track User Data to Support Social Connections

We know that seniors who maintain meaningful social connections enjoy better physical and mental health throughout their life. Researchers often talk about the benefits of “social capital”, a term that points to the investment of resources that builds trust, connection, and participation. This link is important for all of us at every age, but perhaps particularly important for seniors.

As we age, we retire from our jobs, lose friends and family members to death and illness, and watch our children move away. All of these factors can drastically reduce the opportunity to engage in meaningful daily social interactions. In other words, we are left with little social capital, a condition that has a direct impact on physical and mental health. 

Understanding the importance of supporting physical health and fostering social connection, many senior living professionals look for ways to turn their fitness centers into the core of social life in the community. The goal is to create a space where residents can make new connections and maintain current friendships – a place where they will be missed if they don’t show up on a regular basis.

This is an effective strategy; however, most senior living wellness professionals are master jugglers, with a lot of different balls in the air at any given time. Keeping track of who’s showing up to what and checking in with residents who haven’t made an appearance in a while is challenging, but the solution might be as simple as tracking the data.

The staff at Legacy at Forest Ridge, an Assisted Living and Memory Care Community in Schertz, Texas, discovered that they can use data tracking to support the physical and social wellbeing of their residents while also saving their staff enormous amounts of time.

“Keeping track of how often our residents are getting to the fitness center to train is a high priority for me.  One of the main reasons our residents choose to be here is for the social connection.  If they aren’t physically well and can’t participate in the community, they begin to feel lonely and depressed.  This emotional state can cause them to become more sedentary, causing further physical decline.  It’s a vicious cycle.

My goal is to do everything I can to prevent the decline in the first place, and that means making sure they get into the fitness center to train.  Because the HUR equipment tracks usage and records all the stats from each workout, I don’t have to be there all day taking notes on who’s there and who’s not and watching for residents who are skipping exercises or not performing well. I simply get on the computer and look at the numbers to identify residents who might need some extra encouragement or attention. This is huge and saves us around 17 hours a week.  -Melissa Smith, the Lifestyle Director for Legacy at Forest Ridge

2. Help Seniors Find their Big WHY

Simon Sinek, marketing consultant, bestselling author, and motivational speaker, has made a living educating leaders about the importance of thinking, acting, and communicating from your big why. He advocates that tapping into a deeper reason for doing anything – finding purpose – is the way towards happiness, connection, life satisfaction, and even living a long, healthy life.

This idea that meaningful motivation comes from connecting the dots between what we think we need to do and what is deeply important to us doesn’t go away as we age. In fact, one could argue that it becomes even more important.

Many seniors find themselves in a position for the first time in their lives when they don’t have to do anything. All the things they “had” to do when they were younger – go to work, take care of the kids, mow the lawn – are no longer on their to-do lists. For the first time in their lives, they are free to fill their days with things they want to do.

So, how can senior living professionals ensure that showing up to the gym is one of the things residents want to do? For the staff at Three Pillars Senior Living, the answer lies in helping residents make the connection between physical health and the other meaningful activities in their lives. In other words, they help residents find their big WHY, a strategy that’s resulted in a 79% utilization rate of members in their wellness program.

I realized years ago that if our residents and community members don’t have a meaningful connection to WHY they are taking on an exercise program, they are much more likely to give up before achieving any kind of meaningful results. Many of the seniors who come into the gym for the first time have never worked out before, or haven’t worked out in a long time.

Their reason for not working out isn’t because they didn’t know that exercise is good for them. It’s that they haven’t connected exercise to their ability to live their life as they want to live it. Making that connection is HUGE because exercise is one of those things that doesn’t pay off immediately. So, if within the first couple of weeks I can help them tap into an intrinsically motivating factor for sticking with it, they’re more likely to create a habit. Then, with time, the results they receive from being strong, feeling healthier and being connected to the Wellness Connection and its members, becomes the ultimate motivation.” -Dawn Mans is the Wellness Connection Coordinator for Three Pillars Senior Living

3. Use Technology to Assess Individual Fall Risk.

North Hill is a senior living community in Massachusetts with a strong focus on strength and balance.  In fact, one of the most important programs at North Hill is a Balance Clinic aimed at reducing falls and supporting the quality of life for its residents.

While most senior living communities are concerned about the risk of falls, the wellness staff at North Hill has taken a unique approach in that they use assessment to help their most active residents understand their risk of falling. The strategy is to be as proactive as possible – reaching residents long before their risk of fall is imminent – through measuring outcomes and using individual data as a natural motivator.

“Fall prevention is really important because we know how drastically a fall can affect our residents’ quality of life. Most of our residents are quite active and not really thinking about balance when they first come here. When we get them on the HUR SmartBalance and run an assessment, many are surprised by how their balance is deteriorating.

This allows us to create a program for them early – before they fall, or before their lack of balance starts to prevent them from doing what they love…. The assessment score is really motivating. They get competitive with themselves and try to beat their last score. But, they also quickly notice how their improved balance is making the rest of their life easier, and that motivates them even more.”  -Linda Riley, Fitness Manager, North Hill

4. Renovate Your Community’s Fitness Center

Ok. We know this isn’t a tip you can run out and implement tomorrow. But, having a state-of-the-art fitness center equipped to support the health and wellness of a diverse population and provide for a wellness program that meets residents’ physical, social, emotional, and intellectual needs is a legitimate requirement for communities who want to hold – and grow – market share.

And, if your fitness center is severely lacking, it might be the only way to increase participation.

Peconic Landing, a continuing care retirement community in Greenport, New York, is an excellent example. The community felt that remodeling and expanding their community center was key to increasing participation in wellness and social programs and securing a position in the market as a community that supports active aging. A key part of the expansion was choosing to include a state-of-the-art fitness center equipped with HUR machines.

“One of our biggest goals has always been to increase participation in the wellness programs offered on our campus. Of course, we want every member of our community to be healthy and active for as long as possible! We felt remodeling and expanding our fitness center would allow us to increase the variety of activities we offer and thereby increase participation across our entire community – and it really has! We’ve experienced a jump from 37% of members regularly using the gym to 57%! …

The HUR equipment is so user-friendly and allows our members to work out independently, which has been empowering for the members and our staff.  Members aren’t intimidated by the machines because the weight and resistance change to their specific needs, allowing them to focus on proper form. Now, members can come at their leisure as they don’t require constant supervision. This frees up our team to offer new classes and personal training.”  – Carmine Arpaia, Fitness Manager, Peconic Landing