4 Strategies for Senior Living Fitness Participation

In September of 2017, 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 things that comes up frequently during HUR Hero interviews is participation. They all agree – physical fitness is extremely important to residents’ overall quality of life. But, simply having a wellness program does not ensure that residents will participate. 

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. If you are looking for ways to increase participation in your community’s wellness and fitness programs, here are 4 proven strategies.

#1. Create a fitness center specifically designed for independent workouts.

Good Samaritan Society - Mountain Home is a senior living community in Arkansas that recently opened the doors to a brand-new fitness center. Prior to the center’s construction, the community did not have an on-campus fitness center, nor was there a fitness center close by that catered to the needs of older adults. The wellness director did her best to encourage residents to participate in fitness classes and group outings, but participation was low.

The community made the decision to create a fitness center that would be open to residents and the outside community so that seniors throughout the area could have a place to work-out independently. This strategy has not only increased the number of currentresidents who work-out consistently – it’s also a way to get to know potential futureresidents. 

“There is a constant stream of Good Samaritan Society residents and seniors from the surrounding community exercising on the HUR equipment, taking a class, or attending a seminar. In fact, our residents are starting to show up earlier and earlier so they can get their workout in before it gets crowded!

We believed that creating a place for seniors to exercise would lead to increased activity and greater independence throughout the Good Samaritan Society campus.  This has happened.  Our residents are more involved in events and activities than ever before and tell us all the time that because of exercising on the HUR equipment they have increased strength and stamina to participate in the activities they love. Perhaps most impressively, our outpatient program has grown by 300%.” - Bethany Clark, Wellness Director, Good Samaritan Society – Mountain Home

Fuller Village, a senior living community in Massachusetts, took a similar approach to increasing participation in their wellness program, investing in a new, state-of-the-art fitness center with 5 pieces of HUR SmartTouch strength training machines. One year after the center opened, they’d experienced a 75% increase intheir fitness program.

“An important part of the decision to build the fitness center and equip it with HUR machines was because having quality on-campus fitness options is something potential residents are looking for.  Many of our residents were, in fact, leaving the community to go to a nearby health club daily.  Building the fitness center was necessary if Fuller Village is to be competitive in the marketplace moving forward.”Andrea Doherty, Marketing & Operations Director, Fuller Village

#2. Tap into our intrinsic competitive nature.

Us humans are a competitive bunch, and our drive to win doesn’t go away as we age. In fact, for some, the desire to compete might get stronger. Legacy at South Plainsis a new Assisted Living Community in Texas that opened its doors in July of 2017 and was at capacity with a waiting list in 7 months. One of the key factors to their success is their emphasis on health and wellness and the impressive number of residents who participate in activities that promote physical fitness.

The community’s Resident Services Coordinator explained that one of the things they’ve done to encourage residents to exercise consistently is by tapping into their competitive nature. 

“One of the things that motivates them the most is ‘Legacy Loot’.  Legacy Loot is fake money that we hand out to residents as a reward for participating in all kinds of activities - including visits to the fitness center.  At the end of each month, they can spend their Loot in an on-campus store or at an auction.  You can't believe how motivating this is to many of our residents.  They get totally competitive with it, throwing their money down on the table before an auction to show off how much they earned.

Also, our corporate office sends out an email every month with gym participation data from all the Legacy communities.  Our entire community is invested in trying to beat out everyone else and be the winning community each month. It's a little fun, healthy competition that boosts motivation.” -Robert Brown, Resident Services Coordinator at The Legacy at South Plains

At Canterbury Woods, a senior living community in New York, team fitness competitions have increased participation so much that they’ve had to set limits to how often residents can use the HUR strength-training machines per day! 

“We asked 4 of our residents who had been consistently training if they would serve as captains of teams, with 6 residents on each team. We explained they would each earn points for their team every time they used the HUR and cardio equipment. What happened was really amazing.

One of the captains was calling her team every night to find out if they went to the gym and how they did. Team members were encouraging each other and cheering one another on. In fact, the residents got so into the competition that we had to set limits to how much they could use the machines!”- Debbie Lennox, Fitness Coordinator, Canterbury Woods

#3. Offer personal training – and charge extra for it.

Last year, the senior living community of Paradise Valley Estates made a risky decision. They launched a personal training program and charged residents extra for participating in it. At first the residents we resistant. Like most senior living communities, residents had come to expect that one fee should cover everything on campus. But, in the end, the program has been a roaring success, dramatically increasing overall participation in their wellness program and generating additional income that they’ve used to grow and expand the program even further.

“We worked hard to educate them about the value of personal training and how the extra fee would allow us to create a better program for them. As it turns out, we believe that the extra fee is one of the key reasons for the program's success.Residents want to get their money's worth, and so they work harder and train more consistently.  Residents are happy, and spread the word like wildfire. More personal training clients allow us to improve the program even more.  It's a cyclical win-win situation for everyone.”- Jan Olson, Fitness and Living Well Manager, Paradise Valley Estates

#4. Create a mutually beneficial partnership with Physical Therapy.

A little over 10 years ago, the Wellness Director at Presbyterian Village North, a large CCRC in North Dallas, noticed a disconnect in the community’s therapy discharge process. She realized that residents were being discharged from physical therapy with exercise plans, but most weren’t following through with the plan on their own. As a result, many of those residents would end up back in physical therapy within months. To address this problem, the community set out to create a structured post-therapy program that provides the tools and accountability patients need to keep getting stronger.

“It didn't happen overnight, but today, our rehab and wellness teams work together like a well-oiled machine. Upon discharge, the therapists work with each resident to design a customized wellness program. Once the wellness path is chosen, the therapist trains the Get Fit staff who will be working with that resident and ensures the right classes and resources are available. This includes setting up a strength training plan utilizing the HUR Smart Technology.

The model works both ways. If residents require skilled therapy again, our wellness team puts in a referral for therapy and works with the rehab staff to incorporate any changes into the resident's wellness plan. Having this comprehensive, required plan for our residents keeps us all accountable and provides the tools residents need to live full and vibrant lives.” – Shannon Radford, Wellness Director, Presbyterian Village North

The Director of Community Life at All Saints Senior Livingin Minnesota created a similar partnership to increase participation in the number of residents consistently using their HUR strength-training equipment.

“I realized that a bridge between Physical Therapy and ongoing training was key to increasing participation. I immediately started working on a system that would make it easy for our residents to naturally move from one program to the next. HUR Smart Technology makes this easy.  We set up a program based on the workout plan from the therapy team and can even report back on their progress. Now, entering our wellness program is simply the next step residents take after completing Physical Therapy.” - Denise Kuechenmeister,Director of Community Life, All Saints Senior Living