Focus on the over 50s: The Pivot to Senior Fitness

Demographics. It is a word that comes up time and time again both in the fitness industry and here at the Gym Owners Forum. 

And it is really no surprise. It is one of the most vital metrics that we have. It is one that the budget-chains have honed in on and for a long time many independent gyms have lagged behind in. 

So today we will be talking about the contradictions inherent to the fitness industry when it comes to age, demographics, generational difference and everything in between. In addition, we will be looking at how independent gyms can make the most out of targeting specific demographics from our experience and collaboration with independent gyms up and down the country.



So what is this contradiction, I hear you ask?  It is that the fitness industry is both very susceptible to demographic changes and yet also, almost paradoxically resistant to it. 

Put another way. The fitness industry is very dependent on the whims, ebbs and flows of demographic change, and any independent gym that thinks it is above demographic change is leaving money on the table.

But with that being said, it is reliant on certain demographics. Specifically, the continually shifting under 35 demographic which routinely makes up the majority of gym members. 

so what are we examining today? And how will re-examining our relationship and approach to demographics help independent gyms bolster retention rates and revenue?

Well, as you might have gathered from the title. We are looking at the over 50s. Which might seem to contrast with our above statement regarding under-35s.

But these two statements go hand in hand. The challenges of the younger generation are a given. It is a shift that the fitness industry has always endured and always will endure. Gen X gives way to the Millenials who have given way to Gen Z who will also age out of their ‘youngest generation’ moniker.

Each of these generations have their own specific needs and requirements that we will no doubt one day cover. But today we are looking at the other end of this trend, which is a relatively recent phenomenon.  

Because something has changed over the last ten to twenty years. Many polls will tell you that working out has never been more popular for the over-50s and they have never occupied such a large share of the total gym-going membership.

And the advantage we have with this new, burgeoning demographic? They aren’t emerging from childhood. Quite the opposite in fact, they’ve been around for a good long while. We know their likes and their dislikes. We have the data. 

They are quite literally a known-entity and today we will be looking at what that known entity responds well to as we examine the generations that have shaped the fitness industry and wider economy for the last four decades.

And what is most interesting to any dynamic independent gym owner is the fact it is a generation that has retained more interest in working out and longevity than any generation before it. 

A confirmed trend

While Covid-19 sent many things into flux. The recovery of the post-pandemic data confirms that this trend of the 50+ demographic is here to stay. And that is something that independent gym owners shouldn’t turn a blind eye to. After all, this is a generation that has frequently shown a preference for ‘Independent’ and ‘Small Business’. Why should their choice of gym or fitness club be any different?

And the trends that have led to this prolonged and sustained enthusiasm for working out shows no sign of abating. The 21st century has been defined by people becoming more health-conscious than ever before. The 50+ generation we are currently talking about courting has been one of the vanguards of this movement. Intent on enjoying a greater quality of life for longer. 

Spurred on by the fatalism of the generations that raised them, this has been a potent force behind many industries, from cruises to cycling and there is no reason the fitness industry can’t capitalise upon it.

In fact, what was once a fairly niche market for many independent gyms up and down the UK and Ireland has quickly become a staple for many. And it isn’t just sleepy towns. As the broader demographics of society start to trend towards older people more than they have ever done, this demographic is finding a home in gyms in areas that many would not expect. 

We have seen a steady increase in the popularity of search terms such as ‘fitness programmes for adults’, with several such results making headlines in 2023 and 2024 for their surprisingly high rankings. 

Supply and demand

The demand has started to arrive and prudent independent gym owners will try and get ahead of the curve.

As with many trends we have noted, this one combines a long term pattern with an inciting incident. Namely, Covid-19.

While it is now several years behind this. This had several key effects on the demographic we are looking at.

It caused not only a large number of ‘Baby Boomers’ to retire prematurely and all at once. It also coincided with broad, national campaigns focusing on the health of the population. 

It also caused what might eventually be known as a ‘wheel-spinning effect’. After an enforced sedentary period, many people were ready to go after the lockdowns had concluded.

And it does not seem that this trend has abated. Trends such as ‘functional fitness’ and ‘Low-impact workouts’ have never been more popular. 

Both have seen increased adoption rates with not only the older generations but also the burgeoning Gen-Z demographic. The desire to ‘live better for longer’ is a powerful pull and may well be remembered as one of the defining motivations of our time. 

With all this in mind, we firmly believe that Independent gyms are shooting themselves in the foot if they ignore this profound increase in demand within the general population. The demand has been expressed, it is up to us to provide the supply. 

So we will be spending the rest of this article looking at ways that independent gyms can get the positive momentum rolling. We know that many people within these demographics have this desire, they just don’t know if the gyms in question ‘cater to them’. 

Events And Classes Aimed at 'Older Adults'

The first area we will look at when exploring how to capitalise on the rise of the ‘older adult’ market is simple. Events. 

A very direct approach. Hold an event and make it very clear who the target audience is. 

As we established in the introduction. Many people think of independent gyms as the domain of the young. And while the desire to join a gym may be there, some people won’t think you are talking to them until you are quite literally stating that you are talking to them. 

So the goal here is to ‘get them in the door’. As such, there is a good argument for making it an open day, or a discounted/subsidised price. 

What we are trying to do here is build ‘positive momentum’. It is a story we have heard countless times as the Gym Owners Forum meet-ups. Big event days where people come in and say things like ‘I never knew the atmosphere would be so friendly’ or ‘I never knew it looked this good inside’

Some people, especially some older people, like to live their life on the beaten track. And that is fine! But it is about convincing them that your gym is worth straying off the path for.

And it is a self-sustaining and positive cycle. The more events held, the more normalised ‘Older adult’ oriented classes and memberships will become. Word of mouth spreads quickly, especially amongst towns and suburbs. This is a generation that still does its socialising offline. 

If we are looking for a good example of how the budget-chains have already cottoned on to this fact, we need look no further than the 2023 launch of the Pure Gym’s ‘fitness championships’ that were specifically targeted towards the over-50s. 

It was an initiative that allowed anyone over 50 to enter free of charge into the Pure Gym Over 50s Fitness Championships, whether they were a member or not. 

While we are no fan of praising the budget-chains, they are market leaders and their initiatives are an increasing benchmark, worthy of studying. We aren’t talking about copying, but doing what they do better, in a way that only independent gyms can. 

Pure Gym have clearly put some faith in the news that an emergent trend of exercise amongst ‘older adults’ is taking place and independent gyms would do well to note that. 

As for the Pure Gym events themselves? They were further broken up by the age-bandings used across different championships, with 50 to 59 years old being the first, 60 to 69 years old being the second, 70 to 79 years old as the third and the finally 80+ as the fourth and last.

Quite a span of ages! 

 While we would not recommend that every independent gym copies the event format directly, it holds a lot of potential.

And Pure Gym was not trying to hide that this was an exercise in wooing new members. They wore their desire on their sleeves with clear messaging that they want 50+ members signing up to their gym empire, offering lifetime and year-long memberships as rewards and prizes. 

Honestly we are hard pressed to say that it is a bad idea. If an independent gym knows that it has a significant 50+ population within the area, such an event could not only make for a great community day, but could also result in a number of new members. 

It is a good way to address that frequent concern amongst potential members within the 50+ demographic, that they believe these spaces ‘aren’t aimed at them’. An independent gym holding a large event like this with prizes of membership and other rewards is a clear and hard to ignore message that this is not the case.

And mercifully these events are often quite easy to run, given the type of equipment that is likely to be used. An independent gym should have plenty to hand and the risk of injury or inconvenience should not be too large. As we covered in an upcoming article, these events can use many 50+ staples such as Treadmills, Exercise Bikes, Elliptical Trainers and Rowing Machines. Many gyms have banks of these ready to go and they make ideal pieces of equipment for some light and competitive fun. 

A different kind of social media and social messaging

Just as importantly, this focus on over 50s has an important social message as well. Pure Gym led with the tags that focused on the fact that no-one is too old to give up staying healthy. This is important, not only on a societal level, with healthcare costs for our ageing population representing a major current and future challenge, but also on an individual level. 

This is what the fitness industry thrives on, making sure people live better and are better for longer. This is not a message that should be gated off behind any parameter, let alone age.

The fact it also represents a promising and expansive new revenue stream is, of course, also very useful in this challenging economy. 

Events such as these allow for an independent gym or fitness club’s social media channel to be full of positivity. To enact a ‘celebration’ of vitality into midlife and older age. These are values that can help put an independent gym at the centre of the community in a truly meaningful way.

It can also be an important exercise in community building and bonding. Older people will often be the most embedded within a community, and also the least likely to move away from an area compared to the highly mobile younger generations. 

And unlike the Pure Gym championship, which focused on a higher level of performance, there is nothing to say that the event can’t be gentle or even humorous. It is a good opportunity for independent gym management to get creative, have some fun and meet sections of the community they do not normally have the pleasure of interacting with. 

Family Focused

Another thing to consider when marketing to the 50+ demographic and how they vary from their youthful counterparts.


Unlike the young, transient and often disconnected younger demographics, potential members over 50 will most likely have family and roots in the area. This marks a great opportunity to attract a wide spectrum. Particularly handy for those gyms that worry about alienating young people by focusing ‘too hard’ on an older demographic. (We admit, it is a fine balancing act).  

These ‘family’ events have been a popular event for our members to hold, at once very easy to organise and then market. 

It can also help effortlessly blend fitness programs for older adults focused on the ageing population alongside more general functional fitness training that can be utilised by anyone, irrespective of age.

We have found that these events can be very popular if marketed correctly and, of course, in advance. 

We all know that families are often looking for cost effective and health activities that they can engage with together, so why not include the grandparents? Of course these events only work in certain areas. An independent gym in a city centre may not run into too many nuclear families. But in the right area, and with the right messaging, these events can be fed out to more elderly facing social media in the area. Whether it is Facebook or via the local council or community network, attendance could sky-rocket and the gym could reap the rewards in both attendance and publicity. 

So, should independent gyms focus on Senior Fitness?

It is a great question and ultimately the answer will come down to market research in the area you find your gym in. We have known gym’s find great success when they have pivoted part of their marketing strategy towards courting a more senior fitness demographic, but only after the appropriate research.

The good news is that research is easy to do. Approaching local council representatives who work in fitness will always have a good inside-look as to what the lay of the land is in your area. 

But irrespective of the area, it is important we conclude on the fact that this trend isn’t going away. In fact, it will most likely only deepen as the years go on.

It is a welcome and not entirely unexpected side-effect of the increase in life-expectancy. Perhaps the point is best summed up in a study by the Vitality Research Institute that has found that increasingly men and women are spending a larger proportion of their life in ‘poor health’. 

Unsurprisingly, this ‘poor health’ tends to occur most prevalently at the end of life. This trend has prompted a distinction between life expectancy and ‘healthspan’. One has increased apace and caused a significant decline in the other.

This presents problems both socially and economically for our society and it is something that fitness facilities such as independent gyms and fitness clubs are in a prime position to help with. 

As we mentioned earlier, there is a growing demand among consumers to live not only for a long time, but to live well for that time. It represents not only a wasted opportunity economically but also societally if independent gyms let the chance to contribute to this struggle pass them by. 

We firmly believe that independent gyms can be that place where functional fitness and healthspan increasing exercise can be a core focus. We are in a prime position to capitalise on this trend, both for the benefit of our businesses and for societal good.

Because this emerging trend shows no signs of stopping. Fitness thinktanks believe that this problem and the resulting demand for a solution will most likely compound as this decade continues and the next begins. 

When there is a rare instance of consumer aspirations merging with both the prevailing health advice and the societal good, it would be a lost opportunity for independent gym owners not to step up to the plate. 

The fitness industry as a whole must present ambitious strategies to deal with this crisis and there is no reason that this can’t begin at the local and independent gym level. 

The fitness industry and sector must realise and act upon the fact that we are one of the only sectors well positioned to assist in combating this crisis. 

It is about leveraging the existing expertise and experience found within the fitness industry to make a genuine difference to people’s lives. Shaping their life in both a qualitative and quantitative way.  

Fitness facilities, and especially independent gyms and fitness clubs represent a valuable, accessible and often local nexus for everyday people to access the equipment and expertise that could alter their life in the years to come. 

Together it is possible to create a facility, an environment and a culture that is accessible and potentially empowering to people of all ages, and especially to an ageing population that is eager to live better for longer.

We’re bringing together the expertise of hundreds of gyms from across the UK and Europe, to help gym owners grow their business.

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