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Friday, Apr 19, 2024

Fitness Guru Seeks Brain-Body Synergy

Mindy Gold had been getting epidural shots every three to four months for more than 10 years. 

But since she began the exercise regimen at Q4 Active in Woodland Hills, the San Fernando Valley resident has increased the time between shots.

“I have one scheduled in March and it will be seven months that I haven’t had to get an epidural,” says Gold, who lives in Woodland Hills. 

It is the movement and the exercise that have helped her. She had been in so much pain that she thought it would be too hard to do the workout at the fitness studio.

“But I came and … seven months,” Gold says, asking, “Isn’t that awesome?”   

Those are golden words to Phil Swain, the founder and chief executive of Q4 Active. He founded the fitness studio for people 50 years and older because he saw an opportunity with an aging population that needs exercise.

“When people are locked in and not exercising their health starts to go downhill,” Swain says.

Swain opened the Woodland Hills studio last year. He has more than 45 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, including at notable companies such as Sports Club Co., Spectrum Clubs and Yoga Works. 

He started Q4 Active with financing from private investors and has plans to franchise the business. 

More than just working out

But along with the exercise, Q4 Active also promotes brain health, improving the cognitive skills of its members. 

Displayed on a large electronic board in the main exercise room at the facility are dice that need to be manipulated so that the same number of dots are shown on each one. 

“This is the Smartfit board,” Swain says. “That’s where you challenge your cognitive thinking along with the exercise simultaneously, and that’s where the neurons fire together.”

Q4 Active has themed classes, like Agile Not Fragile or Three’s Company, in which class members have to match up dice in multiples of threes on a Smartfit board.

There is also a class called Thanks for the Memories, where participants pick out word pairs from a board while exercising. Then they move on to the next board.

“It is small challenges like that while we have your heart rate up that create that simultaneous cognitive activity along with the physical,” Swain says.

“The whole concept is functional fitness, cognitive fitness, but it is also very social,” Swain adds. “As we are aging, some people are widows or widowers, they are alone. We create an atmosphere of camaraderie and socialization with serious science-backed exercises.” 

Making money through memberships

Q4 Active’s business model is based on monthly memberships, which cost $150 for unlimited classes. 

In comparison, a membership at Gold’s Gym SoCal Group starts at $14.95 for single-club access plus a $99 activation fee and a $49.99 annual fee. At Equinox, single-club fees in Los Angeles vary from $225 to $275 a month.

Q4 Active has about 100 members currently, with the average age of students being 69, Swain says, adding there are some members in their 90s and others who are in their 50s.

“It is a really nice mix of people,” 66-year-old Swain says.  

Among the older members is Helga Unkeless, who is 92. 

“The wonderful part of the outfit is that they all care for us,” she says. “They walk around, and they correct us, and they help us. It’s not like they close the door and see you in an hour.”

When she was younger, Unkeless was a physical therapist, and she says the exercise she gets from Q4 Active is very important to her.

“There is always another way of doing the same helpful exercise and they come and show it to us,” Unkeless says. “It is just wonderful.”

Big business opportunity with older clientele 

Swain, who does the Q4 Active regimen at least three times a week himself, says going after the 50-and-older crowd is a good business opportunity. 

“When you look at fitness today, everything is geared toward the younger people,” Swain adds. “So it was a big opportunity.”

The Baby Boomers are the largest and most wealthy of the generations, he says.

“There are a lot of people out there, the Boomers, who have the money and who need this but feel alienated from a lot of the other gyms. They feel they aren’t important; they aren’t focusing on their demographic,” Swain says. 

In addition to the memberships, Q4 Active is also offering specialized brain-training programs in private and semi-private sessions and in a 12-week program developed by Sarah McEwen, an advisory board member of Swain’s company.

There are overwhelming amounts of biochemical, neurological and behavioral data supporting the benefits of exercise and cognitive stimulation, says McEwen, the former director of research at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute’s Pacific Brain Health Center, which is based in Santa Monica.

“Working together, the two can stave off the negative effects of aging on the brain,” she adds in a statement. 

Both physical exercise and cognitive exercise is good for the brain, Swain stresses. 

“Doing them simultaneously is kind of like the magic bullet for brain aging. That’s the stuff we are integrating in here,” Swain says. “We are taking science-backed research and putting it in a fun, commercial setting.” – MARK R. MADLER

James Brock
James Brock
James Brock has worked in newsrooms around the world, including in New York, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Houston, and Los Angeles. He began his career with a Newhouse News daily, where he served on the news desk and the editorial page. He was the copy chief for The New York Sun, and founded and edited the personal finance section for Abu Dhabi-based The National, among other positions. He has interviewed Anthony Bourdain, Tom Ford, Mark Cuban, and many other individuals, and has written and edited thousands of stories and articles.

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