17 min read

Serving Active Agers with Colin Milner

Dec 14, 2021 4:01:13 PM


Colin Milner Headshot




Most fitness marketing and services target the young and already fit. But how much sense does that make? Older people who are longevity-focused have more disposable income than their younger peers, and they tend to be more disciplined, reliable, and, crucially, MOTIVATED to commit.

Today we sit down with one of the world’s most respected authorities on how to best serve the unmet fitness and wellness needs of older adults- Colin Milner, the CEO of the International Council on Active Aging.



Episode Transcript:

Colin Milner (01:03):
My name's Colin Milner. I'm the CEO of the international council and active aging. And I am in Vancouver, British Columbia, beautiful rainy Vancouver, British Columbia.
James Brown (01:16):
That's a very beautiful place. I love Vancouver. So, uh, can you describe the work that you do with the aging adult population and how you got into it?
Colin Milner (01:25):
So the international counseling, active aging and also myself, uh, they've been focused for the last 20 years on helping to change the way we age and really what that means is to people live better, longer, and by doing so to change the way people view the older population, moving from burden to, uh, contributors, uh, and also to, uh, reshift ageism once again, from burden to, uh, opportunity to people that are contributing day in, day out. And I got into that. And by the way, that sounds very simple changing the way we age no big deal. Uh, but of course it in involves everything that we do to make that happen. And I got involved because of frustration. Um, I used to be the VP of sales and marketing for a fitness manufacturer. Uh, and we called upon fitness clubs, retirement communities, all these kinds of, uh, facilities, many had no interest in the older popul and as a customer, uh, back then, and those that were working with the older population really didn't have much of an idea in regards to the capabilities, the human potential of older adults, especially back then. So I launched international council in active aging, literally two weeks after nine 11 to try and address that issue. Of course, that was a challenging time to launch any business, but it's kind of funny how we are celebrating a, our 20th anniversary in the midst of a pandemic. And we launched right after a major catastrophe <laugh>. So there's something there about being bookmarked on, uh, on each end by, uh, by issues.
James Brown (03:33):
It's gotta be auspicious somehow.
Colin Milner (03:36):
<laugh> Absolutely.
James Brown (03:38):
So we've been hearing a lot lately that adults 50 and over are, are the future of the fitness industry. And so can, can you just confirm that for us and tell us how, how do we know that, uh, um, and, and why?
Colin Milner (03:54):
Well, it, the, I think the, the future is, uh, of the fitness industry is maybe a slide exaggeration. Uh, but I think they are the, uh, great potential for the fitness industry. I think the future of the fitness industry is yet to be told, then we really have no idea. What we do know is that there is a significant amount of people over the age of 50, who are left behind in regards to many things, whether it's advertising or the fitness industry, uh, the fitness business, personal training, what, whatever end you want to look at. And the sad part is that these individuals have a need, especially as you get old, or many of us have various chronic health issues or, uh, begin to lose our functional capabilities that, uh, could be, uh, reversed significantly by a simple fitness program. Uh, yet the industry still goes after the younger population who to be Frank are broke.
Colin Milner (05:02):
Uh, you know, if you look at the revenue, um, most, and the disposable income, most of the disposable income in the country, uh, and I'm speaking about the us and Canada and the UK and most Western nations are in the hands of people over the age of 50, 70% of the disposable income. And that number is supposed to rise to 75%. So literally three out of every four people that have disposable income, uh, to spend in your product are over the age of 50. Yet we keep targeting that 25% to me that, and course the small portion of that 25%. So to me, that's kind of, uh, you know, the definition of insanity, keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. And maybe, uh, it's not so much a future of the fitness industry. It's the insanity of the fitness industry that will create a new future.
Colin Milner (06:00):
If we can change the way we, we think, um, and older adults are also being told today by science and over the last 20 years that you have a lot more capabilities and a lot more human potential. And what looking for now is ways to actually fulfill that. And of course, how to fulfill that is to be healthy and fit, to be able to do all the things you want to do, where you want to do them and who you want to do them with, which by the way, nine out of 10 people over the age of 50, believe that that is it of healthy aging.
James Brown (06:39):
So what, what then are some of the barriers to attracting and, and serving this customer base, assuming one, one would like to, to target them?
Colin Milner (06:48):
Well it starts with probably our own attitudes, our attitudes to what, uh, it means to, uh, be older, our attitudes about the older population, and also to understand actually the business opportunity, the lack of understanding sometimes also gets in our way. So I think the, the, to be frank, the biggest barrier is the same barrier across all of, and that is ageism. Uh, no, uh, I I've, I've been in front of, uh, a CEO from one of the largest fitness chains in the, in the us that, uh, said I'm never gonna gray my clubs. Well, that's probably the, one of the most significant agist comments that I have actually heard over my career, but that's part of the problem is, you know, it, things change and the health and fitness industry is about helping people to get healthy and fit. It's not about helping younger people to get healthy or stay fit. It's about helping people and for us to move forward, we have to get over the hurdle, the barrier of that. It's just for the young beautiful and, and fit. And of course, almost any owner that you will speak with will say, no, no, we, we go after all people, after 40 years in the fitness industry, I can tell you that's a bunch of garbage, um, uh, that most still target the younger population and, uh, you know, for unfounded, uh, reasons today compared to years ago.
James Brown (08:42):
Okay. So, so assuming that, that I, I'm a yoga teacher and, and I've, and I'm, uh, in my late fifties and I have, um, I've always taught people. The people that were attracted to my classes tended to be in their forties and fifties since I was much younger, but now I've really decided that, that I do want to teach older people how to stay. The reason that I still do yoga just to stay really functional and keep my body as healthy as it can be for as long as possible. What do I need to know? So beyond now that I've made that commitment and, and I have gray hair, what else, what else do I need? I mean, I, I know you don't need gray hair to serve this population. I'm just joking, but <laugh>, but, um, but what else should I know about what might be different from what I've done for the past 20 years of, of teaching?
Colin Milner (09:36):
Well, so first off you need to actually work in a facility that enables you to do that, uh, or it enables you to grow your business. Uh, as I used to run a club many, many years ago, and I remember the owner basically saying, listen, tell all those old people over there in the restaurant, it's time to go. They keep sitting around all day long and talking, and I thought to myself, yes, but they're spending money with you. Don't you realize that every moment that they're in here, they're spending money with you and they're bringing in friends. Uh, so first is to find the right place to work from, uh, you know, it's like being a sculptor, but without the right stone. And then secondly, it's to realize that the, the skills that you need may change based on functional abilities. And that a lot of times in the general fitness centers, many of the classes are, um, done at a relatively higher level.
Colin Milner (10:41):
Even, even the ones that we think are at a lower level compared to what a lower level functioning real life individual is, is a little bit higher than what some people are capable of. So figure out who your audience is gonna be, what functional levels you are gonna actually truly serve. There are five different functional levels and of course, many, uh, levels in between, but there's the elite athlete. There's the fit individual. There's the independent individual, which is a vast sum of the population that, uh, tends to be missing the clubs. Um, there's the frail individual and there's a dependent individual. And that is, you know, probably, uh, may not be your audience unless you are more in a restorative or a therapy setting. So, you know, looking at within that group, who am I actually gonna make my services of available for and become a student of that individual, uh, understand that, uh, you know, we, as you get older, we learn to compensate based on injuries based on years of neglect.
Colin Milner (11:53):
And that I might not be able to do the things you want me to be able to do the way you want me to be able to do 'em, but help me figure out how to compensate and then optimize my performance around that. You know, as an example, if, uh, I have an ongoing rotator cuff injury, maybe things like where dog are a little bit more difficult for me to do, uh, so help me compensate. So I think the, the main thing is to really become a student of your customer and, and by doing so you will know what their challenges are, what their barriers are, what their attitudes are good days, bad days, and you'll be able to better train them, because at the end of the day, people are people and they just simply want somebody to help them accomplish their goals. And if you can do that, you have value. If you can't, you don't, and
James Brown (12:48):
You say the largest segment of those five, those five segments is that middle one, which is independent. So somebody that maybe isn't,
Colin Milner (12:56):
Yeah, that's, that's the average person, that's the average person that's that's for years and years and years, the fitness industry is called that the decondition market. And, but it's also the largest market. Oh, absolutely. You know, that, that is the average person who probably isn't coming into a fitness who, uh, one instance could push 'em over to frailty, um, or injury, or what have you. And they need to build up their reserves better than what they have today. Uh, but what we offer hasn't been appealing to them. And I think that's the key is what we offer in the environments that we offer it in, uh, might not be the most appealing for, uh, a 60 year old or 65 year old woman. I'll give you a quick example of that. If I walk into a club and all I see on the ground is nothing but black mats and it's dark, and it's a, you know, is it's not bright and it looks like more of a dungeon or more of a masculine environment.
Colin Milner (14:04):
Uh, you know, that might turn off, you know, a 65, 70 year old woman who's coming in, who is going, I would like somewhere that actually is bright, that actually is inviting. So, uh, or you go into the super neon, uh, based clubs that there are a bunch of them now where, and they have been for years actually, but they they're even more so now where I go into a spinning room and it's all neon based, well, you know, maybe I have, uh, vision issues and that, uh, you know, that throws me completely off. So I think, you know, we, we try and make these, uh, environments so cool for the young where older adults are looking for more of a home than a nightclub.
James Brown (14:54):
So a, a lot of our, um, listeners, they do teach in facilities so that that's helpful to find a facility where that facilitates no pun intended,, teaching this audience, but also a lot of them, um, teach online, uh, uh, live stream and on demand in including the, and how can we make that experience more inviting to this audience of average aging people that want to remain functional all?
Colin Milner (15:53):
Well, I think it's, uh, it's very similar in that is, you know, uh, understand who your audience is. Uh, so as an example that, uh, you want to take into consideration things like hearing, if you're online, uh, you know, that your movements maybe are a little bit slower, uh, make sure that you, you really explain things clearly. Uh, and also that, uh, you, uh, you have empathy as well. Uh, I think one of the things that I've seen that has been missing sometimes, and some of the classes that I've gone to over the years is empathy. It's like, listen, I'm gonna kick your here. And, uh, you like it, or you don't. Um, and not everybody's that way, by the way. Uh, that's a general statement, but, uh, I think one of the greatest gifts any instructor could have is empathy. And also realize that, uh, there was research that came out not, not very long ago, talking about, we need to actually, uh, redo the way we inspire people to, uh, participate in, uh, physical activity or exercise and stop talking about long term goals and all of this kind of stuff, and focus on what is it that I can do not I'm speaking about older adults.
Colin Milner (17:16):
Um, you know, what I can do today, because if I'm 75, I'm not looking 10, 15 years down the road, I'm looking at what you can do to help me improve my life today. So when you're speaking over your, um, whether it's Facebook, whether it's LinkedIn, whatever the environment is, you know, also focus on current goals. So there's a great, I think it's a German, uh, advertisement showing this older adult, starting out, grabbing a, a kettlebell and taking it to his little, uh, garage and starting to exercise. And at the very end, it shows why he exercised. He was lifting up the kettle, be like this, and the reason he was doing it. So, uh, at Christmas, he could lift up his granddaughter and move her towards a tree to put the, uh, to put the star at the, at the top. So that was his movement. That was his goal. And that was his purpose. Find out what people want to truly accomplish. And don't just teach a class. Anyone can teach a class help helping people to meet their, uh, their, uh, functional goals is a big difference. It sounds the same, but it's not
James Brown (18:38):
Great. So, so, um, just to kind of piggyback on that question about, about live streaming, um, in targeting people through that in targeting older people through that format, um, technology can be a barrier. Um, teaching older, having older people, uh, learn how to work on a particular platform. Um, my experience has been takes more time, my, my question, but it's, but it's worth it. And w I, I don't wanna answer the question myself, but my experience has been once, once they've been guided through it, they're very good at, at remembering and, and, you know, repeating it and they absorb better. But do my question is, do you think that there is a desire to, to learn technology in this population to, to learn the te that would be necessary to be able to reach into their homes and teach them while they're in their homes.
Colin Milner (19:38):
People want to remain relevant, they want to remain connected. And if COVID 19 has shown us nothing else, it's the need to embrace technology to remain connected, whether it's with your loved one, your friends and so forth. So those who have been less apt at, um, uh, adapting to technology have had a, a crash course over this last couple of years, many, uh, my mothers, I did the same thing. I spent about 45 minutes showing her how to use and set up, uh, and maximize, uh, her experience through Skype, uh, as an example, uh, but there's also a misnomer about older adults in technology. Many older adults actually used technology question is what for, and there was a research study that came out many years ago, uh, around ATMs, uh, in the banking industry. And they found that a lot of older people weren't using the ATMs and they surveyed them and they asked why nobody had shown him how.
Colin Milner (20:48):
So, to your point, a simple orientation can make a huge difference. Uh, now you are seeing in retirement communities, as an example in senior living communities, uh, things like tech hubs, uh, be positioned at tech concierge, and you would think, wow, what the heck? But the reality is there's a lot of older people that are beginning to use more and more technologies. You look at the numbers in, you know, there, there are rapid growth, uh, area, uh, you, what they're using for their platforms and Facebook is, uh, you know, ahead of them all. So yeah, there there's some people who haven't adopted yet, but that's only a matter of time, but there's a lot of people who have, and most people now have this, an iPhone. So if you an iPhone, so if you can actually teach 'em how to use a computer or how to understand the iPhone, it, it is better. It is to your benefit.
James Brown (22:02):
Okay. Well, that's very, that's very good news for those of us that you, that rely on technology, um, to teach. So can, can you recommend any resources to fitness pros that, that want to serve the aging adult population?
Colin Milner (22:16):
So there's an endless list of resources depending what they're looking for. So, uh, being self-serving for a second, I would certainly re recommend the International Council on Active Aging. Uh, we're one of the rare groups globally that does nothing but focus on how to live better, um, longer, and how to support professionals. In regards to that, if you're looking at certifications, there's a variety of different certifications out there. Now, whether it's from a, a, or ACSM, you know, most groups now have some form of certification. Are they great certifications? Well, that's a, that's a different question. Uh, but many of them now have, uh, what I would say pretty good to good certifications. Uh, they're certifications
James Brown (23:08):
For teaching this population
Colin Milner (23:10):
Specifically, exactly for, uh, instructing the older population. There's a functional aging Institute as an example. Uh, there's a lot of resources through the, the government sites in regards to, uh, general handouts and things like that, that you can pass onto your customers, uh, that, uh, will save you a lot of time creating those yourself. Um, but, uh, if, if I was someone getting into the industry right now, my first thing would be, I would look and say, okay, what do I need to understand? The population one is I need to create a foundation of understanding. So I would take some form of, uh, you know, course on, uh, you know, gerontology or something like, and I'm not speaking about a four year course or anything like that. I'm, um, talking about, you know, maybe, uh, a few, uh, night courses, just to better understand the capabilities and challenges of older people. Then I would look at, you know, uh, whether it's fitness courses, whether it's wellness courses, the national wellness Institute as well. Uh, you know, there's a variety of groups. Uh, Google will help you, uh, a lot along the way. Um, then I would also look at, uh, where, where can I find some information? And this one's harder, um, on how to market my products and services to the older population. ICA actually has quite a bit of information in regards to that. First thing is you don't call 'em seniors.
James Brown (24:49):
And I remember you saying that in another interview, are there any other pitfalls that, that, that you see commonly with people seeking to market to this, to this population? Yeah.
Colin Milner (24:59):
Yeah. A lot of times we, uh, speak to people like they need to be fixed, um, or we speak in a condescending manner, dairy or things like that, uh, in, instead of treating them as equals, for some reason, it's sometimes we treat 'em almost like kits and, and that is quite condescending. Uh, if you look at the advertising world only 95, 5% of, uh, marketing dollars, just 95% are spent on individual below the age of 30. So we have 5% of the marketing dollars spent in people 50 plus yet they own 70 to 75% of the disposable income. So the other thing is if you, you have a facility or you have a practice help make older adults visible in what you do so that people understand that you are embracing all populations. A lot of times that is kind of something that is left on the table. People don't actually put older adults in their marketing materials, in their brochures, uh, in their online advertising. They still use a sexy, uh, you know, man or woman, a lot of times without a shirt on, you know, the chisel chest and, uh, the abs and Hey, that's great. But the reality is most people, especially once you begin to get older, will, will not look like that. What we are interested in is being able to do the things we want to do and Fitnesses and ends to that means or means to that ends.
James Brown (26:39):
Wonderful. Thank you. So before we go, do you have any, any parting words of wisdom for fitness pros about this topic?
Colin Milner (26:46):
So I've been speaking about this topic for a long time and in many ways, things have changed a lot. And in many ways they haven't changed at all. Uh, the things that haven't changed are things like ageism, the, that have changed are that they're more older adults. There's more, uh, disposable income in the pockets of those older adults. There's also more health conditions amongst those older adults, which requires more solutions. And the word more describes this population. So if you are looking for more opportunity and you are looking for more satisfaction, I believe in your role as, uh, you know, uh, older adults tend to be very, um, gracious in their compliments when you are help them to live a better life. And, uh, this is a place to be, if you have no empathy, you wanna kick and you have, uh, you know, uh, the desire to do the classes for yourself and not your customers. This probably isn't market for you, but otherwise in that it is an incredible, uh, population to work with. I am now part of that population and we are living longer. We are living better and we're just looking for people to help us do that. And you are part of that solution and also part of that opportunity. So embrace it.
James Brown (28:26):
Thank you so much. Thank, thank you very much for being here today. Colin, that's very inspiring.
Colin Milner (28:30):
Well, I appreciate you inviting me, James, look forward to, uh, our next conversation.


Blog Team

Written by Blog Team