Steve Janicak, President of the Healthcare Business Unity

At Tivity Health®, our mission is to empower adults to live their best healthy lives, a life with vitality, through fitness, nutrition and social connection. We believe that engaging seniors in holistic programming to improve their health enables them to age with vitality, while lowering their healthcare costs.

In the U.S. today, we’re experiencing rising infections of COVID-19, the respiratory disease that has challenged the world’s healthcare systems. Older adults are particularly vulnerable to the virus and susceptible to infection. There is a nationwide remain-in-place order announced by the federal government, and the CDC is recommending that older adults avoid physical contact with others. The situation has resulted in heightened anxiety due to health concerns, social isolation, disrupted routines, and fewer options to maintain an active lifestyle. This anxiety is exacerbated for older adults who have limited options for obtaining food and other essential items and services without physical contact. The widespread effects of this crisis makes connecting with seniors essential but requires finding new channels to replace in-person engagement for the time being.  We’ll cover how COVID-19 is changing the way that we support older adults in a series of blog posts that will be posted over the next few weeks.

Even prior to the public health crisis caused by COVID-19,  aging for many is compromised by poor health and costly health care expenses. The baby boomer generation trends provide a stark picture of what’s to come for older Americans. Although individuals are living longer than previous generations, they’re not necessarily living healthier. A 2013JAMA Internal Medicine letter found that adults 55-74 years old had significantly higher rates of chronic disease, more disability and lower self-reported health than members of the previous generation at the same age. 

Improving Senior Health

An unhealthy lifestyle is a driving factor for both chronic disease and cost trends. Despite being the generation who brought recreational fitness into the mainstream, 52% of baby boomers report no physical activity compared to approximately 17% in the previous generation.

Given these trends, it’s a pivotal time to make it easier to adopt healthy behaviors to make aging with vitality a possibility. Tivity Health understands how this unique, changing senior population needs dynamic programming and support necessary for healthy living. We’ve supported seniors for nearly 30 years through our flagship brand SilverSneakers®, the leading fitness and community engagement program for older adults.

SilverSneakers is a benefit provided by Medicare Advantage plans that offers more than 16,000 fitness locations throughout the United States. In a cohort of nearly 50,000 members, participants in SilverSneakers with more frequent visits to participating locations had better physical and mental component scores, self-rated health status, and fewer physically and mentally unhealthy days.

This data and experience are invaluable in evaluating how to best engage the senior population in programs that help them live longer and live better. Whether its personalizing outreach or giving them opportunities outside of the gym, it’s important to provide programming that is enjoyable and accessible for older adults.

Social Determinants of Health

It is a fact that older adults typically require more frequent and higher-cost health services than younger adults. While there are high-risk individuals at all ages, overall, people age 55 and over made up 29% of the population but accounted for 56% of all health spending in 2016.

A variety of factors contribute to these higher costs, including many that we can address by encouraging healthier behaviors and addressing socioeconomic factors that may be driving poor health. The health care industry is increasingly focusing on the importance of the social determinants of health, defined by the WHO, World Health Organization as the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age. These non-medical drivers of health are accountable for as much as 40% of life expectancy.

One of the major determinants of health is social support systems; in fact, a lack of connections causes a risk of premature death similar to obesity and smoking. Surveys of older adults show that loneliness affects as many as 43% of older adults. There is no one-size-fits all approach to loneliness but having a community and network to belong to is a great start.

SilverSneakers is one example of this community, as more than 16 million eligible participants have a chance to connect with others who have the same goals and are at similar stages in life, at more than 16,000 fitness locations around the country.

In a recent study conducted with the MIT AgeLab, 25% fewer SilverSneakers participants suffered from loneliness compared to matched seniors who did not participate. Tivity Health is using SilverSneakers as a foundation to address social isolation and loneliness, but these are complicated issues with multiple solutions.

Nutrition’s Impact on Aging

Another key social determinant of health is food insecurity. Nearly 8.6 million older Americans face the risk of hunger, representing 13.6% of adults 60 and older. Often these individuals are also experiencing chronic conditions or facing extended hospital stays. When considering what seniors need, they may have issues cooking, affording or accessing food at the grocery store or even knowing what foods they should be eating. There may be a desire to eat healthier, but it’s essential that it is convenient to suit their conditions or lifestyle.

Tivity Health acquired Nutrisystem® more than a year ago to expand our offerings to include nutrition. We’ve leveraged Nutrisystem’s expertise in developing nutrient-dense foods and supply-chain distribution capabilities to launch a new product, Wisely Well™. This is not a weight loss solution — it is designed with senior nutrition in mind. We want to make sure seniors get the nutrition they need to live with vitality, but also offer them meals delivered to their home that they want to eat.

Living With Vitality

Tivity Health’s goal is to make healthy aging a priority and, through these healthy lifestyle solutions, reduce factors that lead to serious health issues and high medical costs; including chronic conditions, obesity, inactivity, food insecurity, social isolation and loneliness. We leverage our expertise and strong relationships with Medicare Advantage plans to improve the health of seniors and adults nationwide while containing medical costs.

I introduce to you Living with Vitality, a go-to source to inform strategies to support healthy aging through contributions from our industry experts, partners and advisors. The goal is to share insights, research and perspectives to advance the conversation, further educate the healthcare community and stakeholders, and identify new ways to work together to impact the industry and improve health outcomes. There is no single solution to solve for social determinants of health, so we hope this blog provides a platform to share ideas and solicit your feedback.

If you are interested in these topics, please follow the blog, share articles of interest with your colleagues and community, and share your thoughts with us. Together we can make living with vitality a reality for many more Americans. Contact us today.