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The company's platform gives the aging population personalized fitness recommendations
One of the many spaces that was forever changed by the pandemic was fitness. Even before COVID made it necessary for people to work out at home, the change to virtual, at-home workouts was already underway, with new mobile devices to connect like-minded groups, hybrid gyms, and tech-enabled dumbbells, for example.
All of that was kicked into high gear, essentially transforming overnight and now you have apps and platforms like FORTE, Peloton, Obey, CorePower, and a whole host of other companies, which are offering on-demand fitness. TGhat doesn't necessarily mean everyone is being catered to, though.
That includes aging adults: this is a population not only have their own reasons for wanting to exercise that don't necessarily align with younger demographics, but they also their own needs; while many fitness platforms have a one-sized-fits all platform, as they're geared toward younger people, older people need more personalized content to fit their own limitations and specific needs.
That's why Katie Reed co-founded Balanced, an on-demand fitness platform for older adults, which announced a $6.5 million round of seed funding on Wednesday. The financing was co-led by Founders Fund and Primary Venture Partners, with participation from Stellation Capital, and Lux Capital.
"With older adults, 80% or more have at least one chronic condition, and 65% have actually two or more. So, it's not that they need senior fitness, it's more so they've accrued different needs or modifications, whether it's chronic conditions, injuries, pain in certain areas, or different goals when it comes to why they want to maintain their fitness and their health," she said.
For example, one in two women over the age of 65 are going to have a fracture due to osteoporosis, Reed explained, and when people tell older adults that they should be doing low impact exercise as much as possible, such as using an elliptical machine or swimming, that is actually the opposite of what people should be doing for osteoporosis.
"How do older adults know exactly what's meant for them on their specific profile and what their unique needs are? Do they have a PT in addition to that? How much research education do they need? And then, with the convenience and scheduling, not everyone can get to a gym. How do we make it as easy as possible to come into the homes and then make them feel comfortable to work out in the gym?"
Balanced was created as a way to not only give older adults an exercise platform that fits their needs, but to do so in a way that resonates with them, and, most importantly, doesn't make them feel old or talked down to.
"Fitness for older adults is not senior fitness. It doesn't have to be silvery, it doesn't have to be clinical, it's just personalized," said Reed.
Giving personalized recommendations
When members join Balanced, they start by filling out a 15 piece questionnaire so that the company can get a sense of their preferences, their health profile, what their interests are, and their activities. Balanced uses that information to serve them recommendations, which Reed compares to those offered by Netflix.
At first, she admitted, the company wasn't sure that older people would be willing to give up their personal information, due to skepticism from potential scams.
"What we actually found is that they love giving us personal information because what they've said is, ‘wow, this program and these exercises you're targeting are actually for me.’ They just keep repeating that over and over. ‘This is actually for me,’ because I've been able to find something that feels like it's built for them. It's not patronizing and it has dignity to it."
Currently, Balanced is only offering digital classes, and doesn't have an in-person component, but the plan is to eventually offer both, and to deliver a social experience as well; loneliness is a major concern among seniors, with more than 40 percent saying they regularly experience it, according to a UCSF study. To that end, Balanced is already experimenting with ways to create connections between members by starting a Facebook community group that allows them to engage in conversations, talk about the workout, and share tips.
"That's where I'm beginning but we want to dive much deeper into that because exercise is inherently social. Everything we can do to accommodate someone before they ever need that telemedicine appointment, before they ever need that physical therapy appointment, that's the space we want to be in to help you live your everyday life and support you and empower you. That is part social," said Reed.
Working with Medicare Advantage
Balanced currently deploys a direct-to-consumer model, but the goal is to eventually offer the service through insurance, specially Medicare Advantage plans so that it doesn't cost members anything.
Going direct-to-consumer first is strategic, Reed explained, as the company wants to be able to prove to those insurance plans that they should be offering Balanced to their members. While the company isn't tracing any biomarkers at the moment, it did partner with Embark Senior Living to test the platform in five independent living communities. What it found was that many members self reported that they improved confidence with their future health, and a decreased fear of falls.
"The goal of going direct to consumer first is you can't hide a bad product behind consumers who are going to pay out of pocket for it. You just can't. For us to go direct to consumer first is because we can get prove wins on engagement, we can drive engagement better than other people, and especially better than what Medicare Advantage plans have today, with their prevention exercise options," she said.
"People are excited to put their credit card down for this. So, by taking those proof points to insurance that's going to help strengthen our value proposition and also keep a pulse on, are we truly hitting the needs of our end users?"
The hopes is to start working with these plans by 2023.
An aging population
Part of the funding will go toward hiring more trainers; the company has five on the platform right now, and it's looking to add another 10. It will also go toward helping build out the trainer profiles to see what resonates most with members.
The company also wants to improve the product, and to have the largest content library in the world so there's content for every type of profile of a person, as well as having an algorithm so it can route people to the right content for them.
The real goal, though, is to help the aging population, who are growing in numbers quickly: there are currently over 54 million people who are at least 65 years old in the US right now, and that is expected to grow to over 80 million by 2040, which will be over 21% of the population. Balanced want to help them maintain their physical health in a way that's both fun and engaging.
"I want a headline that says something like, ‘Balanced is the most fun and exciting club that you have to be 65 to get into.’ I want to build that type of brand and community that people are excited about, that they want to opt into," said Reed.
"We want to change the conversation around aging and exercise where it's not, ‘do this because it's good for you,’ but instead it's, ‘do this because it's fun,’ and they're opting into it themselves rather than being told they need to do it."
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