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For Medicare Advantage plans, it’s important to improve their members’ health with innovative solutions that also create engagement, lower health care costs and address the social determinants of health. While some health plans offer digital health platforms, fitness trackers, and wearables to empower people to take control of their health and get motivated to exercise, and on-demand fitness classes and mobile fitness apps are complementary approaches that are key to engaging members.

For older adults who may face unique barriers to exercise, including physical challenges, social obstacles and transportation issues, on-demand fitness classes and fitness apps are effective solutions to alleviate these burdens and improve their physical and mental health.

Fitness Apps for Older Adults Help Overcome Barriers

Empowering older adults to be physically active is often challenging for Medicare Advantage plans. Marketing campaigns can educate them about the benefits of physical exercise for example, but a variety of factors influence engagement, such as demographics, attitudes, defining motivators, exercise behaviors and barriers.

When it comes to barriers in particular, there are several reasons why older adults may not try going to the gym or taking group classes. For starters, a common concern is a lack of experience or stamina to keep up with an exercise program. As a result, members can feel intimidated or expect to feel embarrassed.

They may not know how to start a program or know what to do when they get to the gym. Or they may find it difficult to use the equipment or keep up with the instructors, which can result in fear of injury or falling. In fact, according to consumer research studies conducted by Tivity Health, up to 60% of older adults report low to moderate confidence in performing exercise routines on a consistent basis.

While some older adults are motivated and committed to exercise in a group setting or on their own, others need guidance. Even when they’re offered a program specific to older adults, if they lack the knowledge or ability and are left to figure it out on their own, they may throw in the towel early, or be unwilling to give a program a try.

It’s challenging to start or maintain a fitness routine for members who are caregivers, or for those who experience setbacks or may no longer be able to drive.

On-demand fitness classes and fitness apps however, allow members to continue their routines when they don’t have transportation, or when their responsibilities prevent them from regularly making it to the gym.

Environmental factors and lack of resources can also play a role. According to a 2019 study in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, the most common barriers to physical activity for people 65 to 70 years of age were cost, safety, weather extremes, distance to the fitness facility and lack of time.

Fitness Apps Get Older Adults Moving and Engaged

One of the most effective ways to encourage older adults to start exercising and to be more physically active is through on-demand fitness classes and mobile fitness apps. In fact, 85.6% of people who use the SilverSneakers Go™ app and 69% who use SilverSneakers OnDemand™ also visit a SilverSneakers® participating location. These visit rates are 15% higher compared to members who sign up for the digital solutions but do not actively use them.

On-demand fitness classes and fitness apps allow older adults to overcome the many challenges that prevent them from exercising in a community setting. They allow members to ease into a new program, encourage them to try new types of exercise, help them get stronger, build up their confidence, and overcome any fears they may have while they exercise in the privacy of their own homes. Once they try a new program at home, they’re prepared and motivated to move on to experiencing it in the gym.

In 2018, Tivity Health conducted a pilot program with a large Medicare Advantage plan to evaluate the impact of digital programming. Of those who had accessed an on-demand tai chi program, 25% of members had fallen in the past year and more than 50% had a fear of falling. Post-program survey results found 25% of participants said the online format appealed to them because they liked to exercise at home and nearly 10% said it was because they could take breaks when they needed to. What’s more, 71% said they were more comfortable increasing their physical activity and 63% decided to exercise at a gym or facility as a result of participating in the program.

Fitness Apps Improve Health Outcomes and Lower Costs

For Medicare Advantage plans, investing in digital fitness solutions like on-demand fitness classes and fitness apps can help to attract and retain members, and by increasing regular exercise they can improve health outcomes, create engagement, boost Star ratings and lower costs.

In fact, according to a 2019 study in the journal Quality of Life Research, older adults who increased their participation in SilverSneakers had significant improvements in self-rated health, increased SF-12 scores for physical and mental health, important Star rating measures and a decreased number of unhealthy days. Another study found that participation in the program is associated with better overall physical and social/emotional health status and fewer impairments related to activities of daily living.

Furthermore, research shows people who use these fitness apps and take the same classes in the gym have lower costs. In fact, according to a 2018 study in the journal Health Behavior and Policy Review, Medicare Advantage beneficiaries who attended SilverSneakers classes had $2,144 lower health care costs after a year than those who were not enrolled, and higher participation rates resulted in even greater savings.

Fitness Apps for Seniors: Look for These Key Features

Although fitness apps can be an effective solution to motivate and engage older adults, they must be tailored to their unique needs and offer a well-designed user experience. Fitness apps for older adults that include a variety of programs and intensity levels, designed with options to account for potential challenges, and that offer curated, personalized recommendations are ideal. Programs for older adults should also be designed by experts in senior fitness, led by trained instructors, designed for all fitness levels and capabilities, and offer additional resources and support.

Tivity Health is a leading provider of life-changing solutions including SilverSneakers, SilverSneakers On-Demand, and the SilverSneakers GO app. To learn more about our solutions for Medicare Advantage plans, contact us today.