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Beyond barbells: What seniors need in fitness

Medicare Advantage plans need to offer an array of choices to meet the overall health needs of members.

Fitness solutions for unique needs

Some seniors run marathons. Others have difficulty getting up from their chairs. Most possess a level of physical fitness that falls somewhere between these two extremes.

“Medicare Advantage plans need to realize that a one-size-fits-all fitness solution no longer works. The needs of a generation that is in their 80s are so different from those aging into Medicare,” said Vince Pozinski, head of government product, Optum Health Solutions. “When the 75- to 85-year-olds were younger, the YMCA is where they were able to work out and use the pool. It was also where they had their social connections. So, they still want to use these facilities, but there is a new generation of Medicare members who want more options.”

Seniors in their 60s have started working out at small boutique studios that offer yoga, cycling, Pilates or other specialized classes. And individuals suffering with certain diseases such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis require programs that address their unique needs.

Some seniors simply don’t want to visit a gym or take an exercise class. Providing other activities such as community-based walking or pickleball clubs could help these members stay active.

In addition, health plans can make it convenient for seniors to exercise by offering home strength, yoga and dance kits that that include equipment and instructional materials.

Going digital

Online options are increasingly becoming the preferred choice for many members. “Mobile apps and live streaming classes speak to many of the members who are just now aging into Medicare Advantage plans,” Pozinski said.

The COVID-19 pandemic also contributed to the increased demand for digital content. During COVID, people grew accustomed to connecting with others virtually. For example, many older adults connected with their grandchildren online — and want to continue to enjoy virtual activities with them.

“It’s important for plans to offer content that enables members to share experiences with others. Creating that meaningful family impact is one of the things that plans can do to differentiate themselves from others,” he said.

Just as with in-person programs, health plans should offer a variety of digital programs to meet seniors’ differing needs. Optum offers more than 35,000 pieces of digital content that not only address the needs of different groups of seniors, but of people of all ages.

Food matters

Health maintenance doesn’t start and stop on the exercise mat. Healthy eating is also important. “Nutrition is part of the equation. Health plans need to bring it into the conversation as they look more holistically at what they offer to members,” said Brett Hanson, head of market and product development, Optum Health Solutions.

To help seniors improve their nutrition, health plans could offer education related to healthy eating. “Members might just be looking to improve their overall wellness, or they might have a certain condition like cancer or diabetes that requires a specific diet. Having knowledge about the right meals and the right nutrition can help,” he explained.

Health plans can even help bring healthy food to the table. Optum® One Pass™, for example, offers free delivery of dietitian-designed meals, which are prepared with high-quality ingredients and tailored to support nutrition for common health conditions and dietary preferences. The program also offers free grocery delivery from various stores.

All about choice

Ultimately, health plans can keep seniors on track by providing an array of choices. “Members don’t necessarily want to go to the same gym, do the same activity or watch the same digital content each and every day,” Hanson concluded. “One day they may want to do a 10-minute digital yoga class, and the next, they might want to do an intense in-person strength or cardio class. In addition, to develop our fitness benefits, we try to look at what the topline holistic needs of the population are — not just at their levels of mobility and physical activity.”

Health plans should offer many different activities and services to better accommodate every member’s unique needs and situations. Considering the varying needs of different generations who may be participating in a Medicare Advantage plan, health plans with the flexibility to offer both online and in-person education, fitness experiences and opportunities for social connection will be better poised to succeed.

Learn more about One Pass for Medicare.