Sep 18, 2019

People aged 55 plus are prioritising their health, fitness and leisure time

Investment in old age isn’t all about planning a pension, a funeral, or releasing equity. People aged 55 and way beyond are prioritising their health, fitness and leisure time. Fiona Bugler reports

In July this year, gym chain David Lloyd enthusiastically told the world about their plans to have at least one personal trainer over the age of 55 employed in each of their clubs.

The move was a proactive response to ukactive’s Reimagining Ageing report, published in 2018, and was a smart business move to cater for their older member base which has grown ten per cent in the last year, and makes up 18 per cent of their total membership.

We’re living longer and it’s clear that more of us are intending to stay active and enjoy the extra time we have as the years go on. If you’ve just recently joined the ‘youth of old age’, i.e. you’re 50 plus and were born in the late 1960s, you represent a growth area of our population.

By 2030, the number of people in the UK aged 60 years or over is predicted to increase to 20 million, up 31 per cent compared to today’s figure of 15.3 million. And by 2040, nearly one in four people (24.2 per cent) will be aged 65 or over; one in seven of us will be aged over 75.

Active trailblazers

It’s this group who have led the running revolution. At the younger end of this group (i.e. those born in the early to mid 70s), the over 40s, are not just active, they’re super fit. Strava research from April 2019 revealed that over 40s were faster than 20-somethings at marathon running (the average runner in the 40 to 49 age group finished the 2014 London Marathon in three hours, 43 minutes and 14 seconds, compared to the 20 to 29 time of three hours, 44 minutes and 47 seconds). And statistics from organisations such as the Triathlon Industry Association continue to show that today’s middle-aged make up the largest proportion of recreational athletes (in 2018 this was average age of 45 and average salary of £48,700) with no sign of slowing down.

Age groupers

Both running and triathlon have found ways to engage this growing market with age group competitions. The inaugural Abbott World Marathon Majors Wanda Age Group World Championship race (https://www. will be held as part of the 2020 Virgin Money London Marathon, with age categories from 40 to 80- plus. The number of events that are going to be qualifying events has gone from 50 in year one to 175 for next year (Oct 2019-Oct 2020), say Abbott World Marathon Majors, showing the global appeal as marathons around the world see the value in supporting age groupers. And of course, there’s the competition for those who take part in all the marathon majors (London, Tokyo, New York, Berlin, Boston and Chicago) which will appeal to those who love to travel and race which is more likely later in life when there’s more disposable income.

Who are you talking to?

According to a report from 2016 by Saga , over 50s hold 80 per cent of all personal wealth and control 70 per cent of all disposable income, and Euromonitor predict that by 2020 globally, people over 60 will account for $15 trillion in spending power. Yet a mere five per cent of all ad spend is directed at the over 50s. And research shows that brands don’t know how to engage with older customers. One study by Gransnet found that over three quarters felt ‘underrepresented and misrepresented in advertising’, while 79 per cent felt ‘patronised’ and even more (89 per cent) felt brands were just not interested in them.

How old is old?

It’s important to recognise that just like a 20-year-old and a 40 year-old have very different needs, the same is true of a 55-year-old and a 75-year-old. Back in 2015, researchers the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Vienna, Austria, argued that old age should be measured not by age, but by how long people have left to live, prompting the Telegraph headline, ‘Old age starts at 74’. According to this report, the time when middle age ends and old age starts is dependent on how many years you have left to live, and from 74 this would be 15 more years based on average lifespan statistics.

In 2016, Sport England acknowledged this diversity and stated that the £10million of National Lottery money gifted across England covered a broad range of ages with different needs. They invested in 20 projects from football to dance groups for 60 to 85 year olds with the common and shared goal being to reduce the number of inactive older adults.

As well as public national funding, grassroot entrepreneurs are helping to drive change. Silverfit is a charitable fitness network, set up by Edwina ‘Eddie’ Brocklesby, who was recently awarded a British Empire Medal (B.E.M) for Services to the Health and Wellbeing of Older People. Eddie, also known as Irongran, is famous for taking on an Ironman at aged 75 and has a zest for life that’s infectious, so it’s no surprise when she’s not training herself, she’s inspiring others (her most recent exploit included an attempt to cycle across America with a small team of 70-plus-year old women). Silverfit, set up in 2013 holds fitness sessions in 13 locations across London, with 14 different activities, for older adults every week, from cheerleading to Nordic walking. Eddie’s interested in making an impact and a difference, and actively researches the market (

Silverfit’s most recent research, supported by Josephine Perry, leading sports psychologist and journalist, surveyed almost 6,000 active older people. The results are yet to be published, but it was clear that, alongside what they are already doing, Pilates and yoga, bowls, dancing, walking, golf and martial arts were the activities the 55 plus age group were looking to try.

Transport, information and cost matter

“However, the interviews we are conducting suggest that it is not as simple as just putting on activities and expecting people to turn up,” says Perry. “Many people in our study wanted to have some central database of activities as they struggled to know what was going on when and where, many found it hard to get to activities as public transport options are poor near them and lots felt activities would need to be subsidised so they could afford them.”

Opportunity for growth

Its’ clear that there is still money being spent by the over 50s who want to stay fit and healthy and that there are many opportunities for forward-thinking sports and fitness businesses. According to a study by insurance provider RIAS carried out in 2015, the over 50s spend £1.5 billion a year on exercise and healthy eating. Research by Havas Meaningful Brands (an analysis of the relationship between 79,000 silver surfers and 1,500 brands, across 33 markets and 15 industries over an eight-year period) found that ‘being at their best physically is one of their top three life priorities, while 58 per cent have a genuine interest in wristband fitness technology.’ And of course, where there’s a problem (transport, cost and information) there’s an opportunity for an entrepreneurial business to make things better.


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