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The 'Issue' Is New Horizons

The 'solution' is to recognize that we are entering a new age where exercise is more important to individuals than ever. Fitness facility operators need to respond to this by identifying who today's exercisers are and what's important to them, and then provide the motivation, results and programs that will meet their needs.

What is on the horizon for fitness businesses? If you haven't yet identified the populations, technologies and programs that are driving today's industry, the time to do so is now. The role that exercise plays in society has never been more prevalent than today, and it is only going to become more widespread as individuals and organizations continue to recognize how crucial becoming and staying "well" is.

If you're not sold on how important individuals believe fitness is to their health, perhaps because of fitness facility membership numbers in comparison to total population numbers, there is a recent survey that lends proof. Titled, "The Importance of Exercise," the random telephone survey of 1,016 adults ages 18 and older in the U.S. revealed that, of those surveyed, 99 percent believe that exercise helps preserve good health. However, 79 percent said that, "the current culture in America, including the pressures of work, family and financial demands, makes it hard for people to exercise regularly and maintain healthy lifestyles." Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said that employer programs to encourage activity would make it easier for them to incorporate exercise into their daily routine. And 61 percent said they believe the government should do more to promote physical activity, with 51 percent believing the federal government currently doesn't do enough to encourage physical activity. The survey was conducted by APCO Insight and sponsored by the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA).

Focusing on prevention vs. treatment

Part of the problem with our "culture" is a focus on treatment vs. prevention. The healthcare industry, a category under which fitness facilities should be (and are starting to be) included, focuses on treating the sick, rather than keeping individuals from getting sick in the first place. With the volumes of studies published in medical journals showing the relationship between fitness and preventive health, it seems odd that our society is so stuck in this state. As an example, it was just recently reported at the Pediatric Academic Societies' annual meeting in Toronto that, despite the prevalence of childhood obesity and recommendations that pediatricians track the body weight of their patients, a study revealed that only 5.5 percent of 500 children studied were correctly measured and tracked for body mass index (BMI).

What can be done? Well, for starters, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, the first federal guidelines that focus on physical activity, are scheduled to be issued in late 2008. The Guidelines "will provide science-based recommendations on the latest knowledge about activity and health, with depth and flexibility to target specific population subgroups, such as seniors, children and persons with disabilities," according to a report issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This past May, health and fitness industry leaders representing businesses from 50 states and 200 congressional districts urged members of Congress to support two pieces of health promotion legislation: the Workforce Health Improvement Program (WHIP) Act (H.R. 1748 and S. 1038) and the Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Bill (H.R. 245). The WHIP Act would make off-site fitness center memberships tax-free for employees when provided as an employee benefit, thereby removing barriers to worker wellness. The PHIT Bill would allow individuals to pay for exercise programs and certain exercise equipment with pre-tax dollars by including them in tax-deferred medical savings vehicles, such as flexible spending accounts (FSA) and health savings accounts (HSA).

Making prevention work in the fitness center

As the momentum grows and programs are put in place to encourage individuals to make fitness part of their daily lifestyles, it is ever more important for fitness facility operators to ensure that what they're providing to current and future members is not only what they want, but provides them the results they need. Otherwise, despite making it financially more feasible to exercise, in 10 years, we'll still be rehashing this whole issue over again, and finding that we still haven't attracted and retained more than 14 percent of the U.S. population.

There are trends that can't be ignored - trends that we continually focus on in these pages. The trends that are forging today's new horizons include fitness equipment technology and uses that make exercise more like fun than work, scientifically sound exercise prescriptions that are geared toward the individual instead of the masses, and programs and ideas that engage the many populations that now make up the membership base of fitness facilities. Read on for an indepth exploration of these cutting edge fitness trends that, if incorporated into your facility, can only help you and your members to prosper.

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