Two New York-based chiropractors, Drs. Roger Russo and Anthony Lauro, recently launched Stay Fit Seniors, an innovative program that combines chiropractic care and regular exercise exclusively for seniors 60 and older.The program incorporates regular chiropractic adjustments with a state-of-the-art, 30-minute circuit training routine supervised by doctors. As long as the senior patient receives regular chiropractic care, they can use the exercise facilities in a Stay Fit Seniors chiropractic practice free of charge. The program has garnered national attention with endorsements by Jack La Lanne, the 92-year-old "Godfather of Fitness." In the following interview with DC, Drs. Russo and Lauro describe the program and its contribution to the chiropractic profession.
Q: Where did the concept for Stay Fit Seniors come from?
Dr. Russo: By year 24 of my 27 years in practice, I wanted to increase my new-patient volume and I wanted to help the senior citizens in a new way. One of my mottos now is, "Attach yourself to something bigger than you are, and you become bigger." There was something bigger than me and that was the new exercise trend for senior citizens. The MDs, American Association of Retired Persons and World Health Organization are telling senior citizens to exercise, but they don't have a place where they feel safe and comfortable to do it. So, I decided to give them that place and came up with a circuit-training program in a senior-safe environment.
I realized I wasn't put on this Earth to own a gym; I was put on this Earth to adjust spines, take care of patients and attract people to chiropractic; hence, the motto of giving chiropractic care away free for life. As long as the seniors are under regular chiropractic care, they exercise free for life. In aligning myself with that bigger premise, the company came to be. So far, it's working. Other chiropractors are starting to come on board, including my partner Dr. Lauro and Jack La Lanne.
Q: What kinds of results are you seeing so far?
Dr. Russo: I've been doing the prototype since 2004. We have patients telling us their blood pressure and cholesterol are down, their bone densities are increasing and their blood sugar levels are better. The program has been a tremendous plus, adding to the chiropractic premise, "There's no better marriage than chiropractic and exercise." They come back regularly, reporting an increase in daily activities - gardening, housework, golf and different hobbies. They have more energy, move easier and feel less pain. The combination of chiropractic adjustments and exercise has been great for them.
As far as practice results, my new-patient volume has increased over 62 percent, which is a tremendous statistic for chiros. The Stay Fit Seniors program is delivering new patients to the chiropractic office, so chiropractic is becoming in demand. The bottom line is if you want to exercise twice a week for free, you have to be under regular chiropractic care. We are not selling gym memberships.
Q: How did the organization's relationship with Jack La Lanne begin?
Dr. Lauro: I saw Jack La Lanne in an HBO interview in December. He still travels all over the country lecturing on health and fitness, so I thought he'd be the perfect Stay Fit Seniors representative. When I contacted his people, I found out that not only was he involved with chiropractic, he actually graduated [from] chiropractic school. His daughter is a practicing chiropractor in northern California, and he and his wife have been under regular chiropractic care their whole lives. The fit was perfect.
Once Jack and his wife understood our concept, the ball got rolling very quickly. They loved the project and the idea of helping seniors, and he agreed that seniors really have no place to get safe, effective exercise under proper supervision. There's no profession better qualified to deliver this exercise to seniors than the chiropractic profession. We were told by his production people that the La Lanne's get approached 6-7 times a week to endorse different projects, and they only take one project each year that they really believe in. We started talks in January and we were filming the commercial, doing interviews and taking publicity photos by the end of February. It has been a fun whirlwind ever since.
Q: Why do seniors, in particular, need chiropractic care?
Dr. Lauro: For someone who has never seen a chiropractor and has been through a lifetime of injuries, slips and falls, stress and the normal aging process of degeneration, their spine has been neglected for 70 to 80 years and definitely needs to be checked. Only 10 percent of the public uses chiropractic care. Through the Stay Fit Seniors program, we're seeing that close to half of these new people coming in have never been to a chiropractor before. We're tapping into that 90 percent that has not tried chiropractic.
Patients come in initially for the exercise, but they understand that chiropractic is part of the program. Once they're in our office, they learn about chiropractic, receive a thorough examination and understand how it'll benefit their health by complementing their exercise regimen. They have warmed right up to it and are becoming great chiropractic patients. In fact, a lot of them say, "I can't believe I didn't find you 20 years ago." We just keep telling them there's no time like the present. One of the single biggest benefits of Stay Fit Seniors is that we are introducing so many new patients to our profession.
Q: How does the program integrate chiropractic care and exercise?
Dr. Russo: We bring patients in for a free trial week to expose them to exercise and chiropractic. During that week, they are given two personal exercise trainings by the doctor and chiropractic recommendations. After that point, they understand the importance of spinal well-being and its benefits and health ramifications. Once they become a regular patient, they're scheduled for treatment as frequently as the doctor deems necessary. Then they come to the facility twice a week for 30 minutes at no charge to go through the senior-specific circuit training that we came up with.
We are making history. For the first time in the profession, chiropractors are able to band together under the Stay Fit Seniors/Jack La Lanne name. We have chiros on common ground. The profession has been talking about unity for many years. This is a way to find common ground - senior citizen fitness and exercise. That is a beautiful thing for the profession as a whole. Stay Fit Seniors doesn't dictate the recommendations by the chiropractor. We show them how to integrate the program into their practice, and they continue practicing chiropractic as they see fit.
Q: How do you hope to expand the program over the next few years?
Dr. Lauro: Our mission statement is to help thousands of chiropractors help millions of seniors. We're going to do that one office at a time. Chiropractors will take it one senior citizen at a time. Right now, we have a chiropractor's office in Darien, Conn. that will open in June. Dr. Russo started this in late 2004; I joined in the middle of 2006. We just started offering this to the profession in April and we're getting an overwhelming response of inquiries. The phone never stops ringing, the e-mails keep coming.
We provide a full turn-key operation. We provide all the equipment, all the promotional materials, all the marketing materials. We provide the advertising and the commercial and print ads featuring Jack La Lanne, and we book all the advertising for the chiropractors in their local market. We have a call center with a toll-free number that all the marketing goes through. If the senior sees the ad and calls the toll-free number, it goes through a call center which hooks the person directly to the Stay Fit Seniors location closest to that senior. We're all banding together under this one banner - unity under the banner of Stay Fit Seniors, but diversity in how chiropractors want to handle their patients.
Q: How can other chiropractors get involved? What kinds of costs are involved?
Dr. Russo: They can go to www.stayfitseniors.com and contact us through the Web site. There's an up-front cost for the licensing fee for the Stay Fit Seniors and Jack La Lanne names. Every time a chiropractor comes on board, they have Jack La Lanne's name and persona working for them. We provide the ongoing marketing, so there's a monthly service fee that pays for all the advertising.
We believe in strength in numbers. In each zone, we want multiple Stay Fit Seniors offices based on how many seniors live in those locations. Those advertising dollars pay for the commercials and print ads to create more visibility for all the doctors in a given zone. We don't see it as competition when more facilities come on board, but as pooling resources like the big franchises do, such as McDonald's and Curves, to create better visibility for everybody.
For that fee, we give a tremendous amount of equipment - the Stay Fit Seniors state-of-the-art circuit-training equipment, flat-screen televisions for patient education, Stay Fit Seniors logos, T-shirts, wall mounts, etc. Once we get patients inside the chiropractic office, we have an in-house way to stimulate referrals through patient education. While the patient is exercising twice a week, we expose them to 15-inch flat-screen televisions with DVD messages about chiropractic.
In this franchise generation, branding for Stay Fit Seniors and Jack La Lanne provides a system for delivering new patients into the office. The doctor has an edge in his practice to bring in more seniors - and it's not only seniors. Remember, every senior is a grandmother/grandfather, mother/father, etc. Once they're in the office and they're being educated by our system, they're bringing in pregnant daughters, grandchildren, and so on. This company was started by chiros, for chiros. This is a chiropractic family that understands chiropractors and what they go through. We need new patients and respect, and we have to be in demand. This program puts chiropractic's best foot forward to the world.
Q: Do you have any recommendations for chiropractors trying to spread the message of chiropractic to the public?
Dr. Lauro: That's exactly what the Stay Fit Seniors program is about. Every day, there's a new story about how exercise helps everything from cancer to diabetes to Alzheimer's. Seniors' medical doctors and chiropractors are trying to get them to exercise. We are taking this trend and bringing along chiropractic for the ride in this exploding demographic - the 46 million people ages 60 and over right now and the 40 million that will turn 60 over the next 15 years. We have mainstream media doing all the work for us. Everyone has accepted exercise and we give them a place to do it, where they'll also learn about chiropractic.
When seniors come to our office, they may have the greatest intentions to become healthier, but if they've neglected their spines their whole lives, chances are they will wind up injured because their bodies aren't prepared to perform the various exercises. Chiropractic care allows them to be in the best possible condition to perform the exercises and get maximum benefits from both. The only place seniors feel comfortable exercising is in a senior-safe environment with other seniors who have common goals and concerns. They love to see doctors watching them, showing them how to exercise, rather than just some muscle-bound person.
Q: What are your hopes for the chiropractic profession over the next 10 years?
Dr. Lauro: We have used Curves as our business model. The Curves franchise opened its first 1,000 locations in 36 months, and now there are over 10,000 locations throughout the country. My feeling is that there are 50,000 chiropractic offices out there. There are at least 1,000 waiting to be involved in Stay Fit Seniors. Our goal is 1,000 offices serving millions of seniors. What kind of message would chiropractic send if there were 1,000 Stay Fit Seniors locations touting the praises of chiropractic and exercise? That is certainly a way for chiropractic to get its message out there.
The biggest problem in chiropractic is how to get the message out. People are so inundated with medicine and the medical paradigm. It's difficult to sell the chiropractic principle in a 30-second ad or a magazine ad. Chiropractic isn't yet organized enough to pool its resources and come up with one message and really have the resources to get out there and deliver that message. The best way to understand the chiropractic message is through the chiropractor's office, with health videos, pamphlets, books, etc. The bottom line is 99 percent of people get the chiropractic big idea in a chiropractic office, so the issue is how to get them into your office. Stay Fit Seniors is one way to do this. This gives chiropractors a chance to spread the message, and it's working. The longer patients stay in my office, they see me adjust pregnant women and babies, and they realize chiropractors can handle ear infections and a whole range of conditions. This is a great way to emphasize the importance of chiropractic care from birth until death.