I spend my days learning about adults 55 and older, and researching their consumer habits. I’d like to think I have a fairly good understanding of this audience, and of the stereotypes they face. And yet, most of my day-to-day life is relatively age segregated.
I first noticed this age segregation in 2015, when I went to the grocery store on a weekday morning. I thought the store would be relatively empty, but in fact, it was busier than usual. It turns out that I had come during what the store designated as “senior hour,” a three-hour window in which older adults were encouraged to (and this is a quote) “shop at their own pace.” I find this particularly amusing, as most of the older adults I know shop far more quickly and efficiently than the younger adults I know. But I digress.
Fast forward to 2023. I entered my local community fitness center for the first time, where I noticed the lack of age segregation. This was new to me, and it felt strange to be in a gym surrounded by people of all ages, rather than by the stereotypical (i.e., younger) fitness crowd. It made things feel less intimidating and made me more comfortable pursuing my wellness goals. This space was open to everybody – no senior hours or rooms – everybody just did what they needed to do. It seems so strangely rare to see that level of age inclusivity, but it was beautiful. I can go to a weightlifting class and find a 20-something person on my left, and a 70-something person on my right. Age has nothing to do with our fitness goals and capabilities; we all modify things the way our bodies need us to, whether we are protecting a joint, recovering from an injury, or just listening to what our bodies are capable of. We chat before and after class, cheer each other on, and lift each other up.
“It’s easy not to realize how age-segregated we are until you see and experience a truly inclusive space”
I was asked if it is a little discouraging to find myself being outperformed by some of the older adults in fitness classes, but I think it’s the opposite. I find it inspiring to see people who are so often told there is little to no space for them in society taking a stand, claiming their space, and having fun doing it. Honestly, it’s what keeps me going back. It’s easy not to realize how age-segregated we are until you see and experience a truly inclusive space. By simply meeting the needs of the older adults in our community, this fitness center provided a space for us all to come together. And it’s only when we’re together that we can learn from and understand each other, which we need now more than ever.