Trends in Active Aging Centers

Trends in Active Aging Centers

Energy. Excitement. Movement. Laughter. Learning. Children. These are not the terms that come to mind when one envisions a traditional senior recreation center.

If you ask Baby Boomers to describe their ideal recreation facility, those are exactly the qualities they are seeking. They are no longer content to sit still in a room and play cards; they want to move, learn, socialize, and interact with the community. They want to stay active. Once you get the clients in the door, the programs offered need to satisfy a holistic mind, body, and soul approach to wellness.


Fitness rooms:
Access to equipment that maintains fitness and mobility has become an essential need for recreational facilities trying to attract Boomers. Operators should provide equipment that focuses on maintaining strength, balance, and reducing the risks of injury. In addition to the open fitness room, consider providing a smaller personal fitness room that can accommodate 2-3 people.

The passion for competitive sports still exists in Boomers. At their stage in life, full size courts are no longer desirable. Offer smaller, half-sized courts that are more forgiving on knee and hip joints and keep the gymnasium space as flexible as possible to accommodate a variety of activities. Have basketball hoops, soccer goals, and volleyball systems, and golf/batting practice nets that lower from the ceiling for flexibility and easy setup.

Warm water swimming facilities are also in high demand due to the ability to minimize impact on joints while exercising. Water Aerobics, Aqua Zumba, and the Arthritis Foundation fitness classes have become extremely popular. Provide additional fitness challenges by adding water currents for users to challenge themselves by walking with and against the current.


Albert Einstein inspired us to never give up the quest for knowledge when he said “once you stop learning, you start dying”. The active adult center needs to provide spaces that meet the needs of teaching classes, mentoring, meetings, and collaboration. Special considerations for rooms that host this type of activity are induction hearing systems, Blue Tooth enabled televisions/media systems, and sound absorbing acoustical treatments to prevent echo/reverberation. 

Classrooms & Technology
Offer classes that range in topics from health, technology nutrition, social security, finances, and insurance. Consider hosting lectures from the nation’s top academics and professionals, such as Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, through online resources that provide free lectures. Technology education needs can also generate an opportunity to interact with younger generations. Try a “Teach me and I’ll teach you” mentoring program. Have a member of a younger generation teach the Boomer how to use technology and in return the youth member can receive career mentoring. 

Virtual Senior Centers
Don’t limit your class size to participants inside the room, consider hosting classes and discussions online. You will be able to reach those unable to attend due to lack of transportation, child care, mobility or health risks. Virtual senior centers allow for homebound seniors to interact and engage with peers. Or create one on one Zoom meetings for a conversation or counseling. 


Social Interaction
Strengthening the soul through social interaction is important. Multifunctional social spaces are necessary to promote formal and informal social interaction. Supply rooms with tables that can function for impromptu card games, meeting, or meals. Weekly lunches continue to be popular with the aging population.

Don’t forget about the potential for outdoor programs. Shared gardens with horticultural classes can offer unique experiences for active adult centers. Host classes on a variety of topics from composting, to harvesting, to organic fertilizers. If the facility serves weekly meals, prepare them with food from the garden. Not only will this help offset the cost of food for the meals, it will conjure feelings of pride and accomplishment to the ones who tended the garden.

Child Care
Recent polls have revealed that one in ten children live with a grandparent and four in ten are primarily raised by a grandparent. Boomers need assistance with childcare to be able to use facilities. Offering a childcare area for participants to use while members participate in programs is a key attraction. Major retailers like IKEA and Giant Eagle (grocer) have addressed child care needs by providing child care service while customers are shopping. 

Multi-generational Facilities
Figuring out how to provide a range of services that satisfy the needs of the boomer can be a bit daunting. There are several issues operators must address to offer successful active adult programs. One of the largest considerations is the facility itself. Take a look at the community’s needs and determine if there is benefit in integrating the two standalone centers into one.

At the end of the day we need to applaud the baby boomers' efforts for paving the way for generations to follow. They have tirelessly asked community leaders to evolve senior centers. I encourage facility operators, recreation programmers, and designers, to look to boomers for ideas in how to teach and inspire younger generations to be active, strong and defy ideas of conventional aging.

Posted on October 1, 2015 at 12:54pm

Tags: trends (2), senior center (8), health & wellness (4), community recreation center (31), adult recreation (6), active aging (6)

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