Management Lessons Learned

Managers can learn from where the industry has been to help them move forward.

What do you think of when you picture big hair, leg warmers and high-impact aerobics? You likely think of the 1980s. You may wonder how there weren't more lawsuits against fitness centers then (did they even know the word "contraindicated" in those days?), but it was during the 1980s that structured fitness became an accepted part of American life.

Managers can learn from where the industry has been to help them move forward.

Powerful demographics

During the 1980s, baby boomers were young adults. The cultural icon of the day was the hard-charging, Walkman-wearing, briefcase-carrying, well-dressed yuppie, and fitness routines reflected that. High-impact, high-intensity aerobics were perfect for a population at the peak of its physical power. As baby boomers moved into their 30s and 40s, they experienced the time pressure that goes with raising families and building a career, and their fitness choices reflected that. During the 1990s, the fitness industry tried to figure out, "How can I stay fit and healthy within a minimum time frame and in the most convenient location?" The answer was circuit training, high-intensity cardio and machines designed to work multiple muscle groups; in short, anything to squeeze as much calorie-burning,heart-pounding activity as possible into 30 minutes or less.

As of Dec. 31, 2004, surviving baby boomers, 78 million strong, are 40 years and older. Unlike previous generations, these former rebels don't appear poised to age gracefully. They want to rewrite the old rules, including the one that said, "Once you're over 50, you need to take it easy." If 50 is the new 30, then "functionality" is the new holy grail for fitness.

Take-home message. Be sure to take demographics into consideration when designing programs and marketing. The 50-plus population is huge, both in numbers and in purchasing power.

Good nutrition never goes out of style

In addition to the fitness industry boom, it was also during the 1980s that the obesity epidemic took off. The National Center for Health Statistics says that the percentage of obese adults increased by two-thirds from the 1960s to the 1990s. Even more depressing, the Centers for Disease Control says that obesity has increased two-thirds more since then.

In response to what everyone acknowledges is a serious health problem, we've gotten a seemingly endless series of diets, all attempting to overcome an insurmountable obstacle: the amazing energy-efficiency of the human body. In the 1970s, we first heard about the miracle of high-protein, high-fat diets. Then it was called the Stillman diet. In the 1980s, Nathan Pritikin advised us to virtually eliminate fat and focus on carbohydrates. The food industry responded with a whole new sub-category: low-fat and no-fat. When a decade of no-fat and mega-calories left people fatter than ever, the Stillman protocol returned; this time, with a new name: Atkins. Today, the U.S. population continues to struggle with obesity, including a disturbing increase in obese children.

Take-home message. Despite three decades of information to the contrary, many people still believe that the key to a svelte physique is some elusive magic diet or pill. Consider your facility a front in the war on obesity. Education is your ammo.

Most adults suffer cognitive dissonance about fitness

It's official:People know they should exercise, and they say they should exercise, loudly and often, from the couch. To quote American Sports Data Inc.,"One of our cardinal statistics is that 62 percent of the U.S. population acknowledges the benefits of exercise, knows it should exercise more, but never does...."

Take-home message. Although this long-standing inconsistency between attitude and behavior will probably never completely end, innovative programming, creative marketing and education can encourage people to put their good intentions into practice.


Ambrosius, G.R. The great boomer myth.

Booming health clubs, slipping fitness participation and healthier diets all coexist in the overweight society. American Sports Data Inc., Aug. 28, 2000.

Farley, T., and D. Cohen. Fixing a fat nation., December 2001.

Forever young. The Economist www.economist. com/surveys/PrinterFriendly.cfm?Story_ID=2516900, Mar. 25, 2004.

Quinn, E. What's hot in fitness for 2005?, December 2004.

The United States Department of

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