Actively aging happens to us all with each passing day, month and year. Aging actively is an entirely different proposition. It's a dedication to the latter that drives Tivity Health to connect nearly 75 million eligible members nationwide to programming that supports living longer by living well.
Richard Ashworth, PharmD, MBA, joined Tivity Health in June 2020 as president, chief executive officer and a member of the company's board of directors. Although fairly new to Tivity Health, Ashworth spent nearly 30 years with Walgreens, beginning on the front lines as a pharmacist.
"Whenever you spend a lot of your time at the eyeball level with clients, it starts to give you a real appreciation of the human impact your company decisions make," he said of that invaluable early experience.
"As a pharmacist, I spent the majority of my career helping people when they were sick. Quite a bit of what I saw was people not living their lives in a way they could or should," he explained. "I wanted to try to get in front of that to help people before they need medications," Ashworth added of the critical importance an active lifestyle and social engagement play on health and well-being.
Tivity Health has three core brands focused on that mission. Prime® Fitness connects employees to approximately 12,000 fitness facilities across the country to support a commitment to regular exercise. WholeHealth Living® is a managed network of chiropractic, physical therapy, therapeutic massage, acupuncture and complementary alternative medicine providers to reduce pain. Perhaps the most famous, SilverSneakers® has become the country's premier community fitness program for older adults.
More than Movement
About 18 million seniors are eligible for SilverSneakers, which utilizes more than 15,000 facilities across the country for interactive classes. "Moving is such an important component of longevity and living well," noted Ashworth. "We want people to live the last third of their lives in the best shape they've ever been in."
However, he's quick to add the program is about so much more than movement. The classes also provide participants with social connection and engagement. "It's a very simple program, but I think a very powerful one," Ashworth stated.
"I love that our program is not only fun and accessible but that it actually works," he continued. Ashworth pointed to a recent independent study by Avalere Health that found participating in SilverSneakers reduced healthcare costs by 16 percent. He noted the average out-of-pocket Medicare cost for individuals is about $5,300 per year. Participants in the Tivity program saw that average drop to $4,460.
During the early days of the pandemic with so much fear and uncertainty, the company recognized a need to keep seniors moving and find an outlet with some sense of normalcy and engagement. "We knew the business model was going to have some pressure. A lot of gyms were temporarily closed," said Ashworth.
The result was to create virtual programming. The fun, interactive classes not only answered a need for loyal SilverSneakers participants they also opened the door to a much larger audience. "We're seeing a lot of new people engaging in physical activity now who historically have not," noted Ashworth, adding digital engagement has doubled participation.
Although most gyms are now reopened, he said company research has shown 84 percent of people using the digital product will continue to do so even after adding in-person classes back into the mix. "We've given people an opportunity to maximize fitness on their own terms." In addition to convenience, Ashworth adds the classes are interactive and engaging. "I do these workouts online with our trainers, and they're a ton of fun," he says with a laugh. "There's an inherent social element to that."
Building off this digital success, Tivity is rolling out SilverSneakers Connect at the beginning of 2022. "We are launching a national social platform that has nothing to do with fitness but is all about connecting people with similar interests," he explained.
The pandemic underscored the importance of human connection to an overall sense of well-being. Ashworth said Tivity conducts an ongoing healthy living survey for older adults. "Just last week, we did a survey and asked about COVID isolation ... 39 percent of seniors had experienced social isolation in the last week," he stressed of findings more than 18 months into the pandemic.
Building off a successful pilot program, Ashworth said reaction to the new platform has been incredibly positive. Finding someone who shares your enthusiasm for college sports, swapping recipes or discussing books provides a reason to get up and get engaged each morning. And that, he pointed out, is key to living well longer.
Keeping Cognitively Fit, Too
Tivity Health® will offer GetSetUp, a virtual learning platform designed specifically for seniors to provide mental enrichment activities, to SilverSneakers® members in participating Medicare Advantage plans starting in January of 2022. The strategic relationship with GetSetUp will expand opportunities for SilverSneakers members to learn new skills, combat social isolation and unlock new life experiences.
Tivity Health has been granted the exclusive right to offer GetSetUp to Medicare Advantage plans and their members. SilverSneakers members in participating plans will have unlimited access to the platform at no additional cost to the member. GetSetUp is a live, secure, interactive platform developed to support mental enrichment and cognitive health in older adults. It not only features instructors but also enables seniors to become instructors to share their skills and knowledge with their peers. GetSetUp offers a wide range of classes (over 2,000 hours/week), through a senior-specific video platform optimized for ease of activation, user engagement and social connection.
"At Tivity Health, we've always believed that fitness means more than just physical activity - it is also important to stay mentally, intellectually and socially engaged," said Richard Ashworth, president and CEO, Tivity Health. "GetSetUp is the perfect solution to provide engaging, relevant content and an accessible platform designed specifically for seniors. This solution, along with our social engagement program, SilverSneakers Connect, are the most recent additions to our engagement platform, expanding beyond our industry-leading senior fitness options to provide a more holistic approach to healthy aging."
Eighty-seven percent of people 65 and over experience cognitive changes associated with normal aging. Physical activity is proven to improve cognitive function as people age through neuroplasticity, which allows the brain to compensate for injury and disease and to adjust in response to new situations. Lifelong learning and mental enrichment are increasingly viewed as a protective strategy against commonly observed cognitive decline in the older population.
"Mental enrichment activities increase our enjoyment of life through the stimulation of learning and connecting with others, and they are also important to maintain brain health," said Kelly O'Brien, executive director, Brain Health Partnership for UsAgainstAlzheimers. "Research is increasingly pointing to the importance of strengthening brain health, maintaining cognitive function, and delaying or preventing the onset of Alzheimer's and dementia. Providing seniors with opportunities to engage their brains is an important part of healthy aging."