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Marching Forward in 2021

Everyone in the industry knows how tough 2020 was regarding work, planning, staffing, and getting by. While many in the industry look to digital and video health programs, the integrity and growth of the fitness industry by no means will mean that health clubs will be a thing of the past (Segran – 2021). On the contrary – clubs will play a critical role in changing the face of healthcare in the United States – which is also on life support. The recent article by Elizabeth Segran in Fast Company states that many Americans will forego health clubs in favor of other types of exercise. She states that 59% of Americans won’t return to health clubs. This may be 59% of current health club members, and not the 65% of Americans who don’t belong to health clubs.

Lessons from the Past Year

From temporary to permanent closures, the health club profession was viewed by many in the US as a non-essential business, and almost all clubs closed their doors for either a few months, or permanently. This strikes a chord at the heart of what health clubs actually do. Why would a county public health professional have so little knowledge of health clubs and their benefits that they wouldn’t know intuitively to keep them open. Many out-patient clinics were open. Of course animal clinics were open. However – day spas, massage therapy centers, holistic wellness programs, and of course, most health clubs were told to close their doors to prevent the spread of COVID.

Then IHRSA started publishing data on social media from around the world that confirmed that health clubs did not cause any undo spread of disease. In fact – looking at regular health club users, they would be considered at the lowest end of disease severity, spread, and incubation of viral loads.

Perhaps the biggest lesson from this past year, in speaking with owner operators who did remain open was that they considered themselves both essential, and of course knew that any lengthy closure would mean an end to their business. They did what they needed to do in order to remain open – from writing to public health professionals to discussing their operations with local law enforcement. They wrote articles in their local newspapers, and were interviewed on local TV. They did what they could in order to maintain their doors open.

The Changing of the Guard

Most clubs have done an outstanding job of having outdoor exercise where applicable, cleaning their facilities, and spacing out equipment and timing of exercise. Many have moved to online portals to deliver exercise content to clients and members at home. This will keep a specific amount of clients from the club, but what about the 65% or more of Americans who need regular exercise to improve their overall health, and enhance their immune systems?

First – looking at health clubs as weight loss centers is not out of the question, but perhaps one of the most necessary issues for the industry. Giving over the weight loss model to companies like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, and the neighborhood bariatric surgery center should change. Health clubs have the ability to concentrate on helping people lose weight – through regular assessments (body fat, blood pressure, blood labs, posture analysis, movement and gait, etc.), and getting them on a program that will allow them to lose weight naturally, not 15 lbs. in seven days. It is incumbent to the industry to see that weight loss, being the number one issue in American medicine, is done in conjunction with health clubs as opposed to without them.
Medical collaborations are a must, and have been discussed for over 40 years as a mainstay of getting patients into health clubs. But in today’s environment, why would doctors want to have patients go anywhere else except their medical offices? Here is where medical fitness professionals can go directly to consumers through support groups, senior centers, or community centers.

Direct to Consumer

I am writing on a subject that many in the health and fitness profession may not agree. In looking towards consumer orientated programs – many exercise physiologists and personal trainers state that any medical fitness referral come directly from doctors. This today may limit the number of persons who would come to health clubs to train. However – using a “direct to consumer” approach, wellness professionals can bring medical patients into their programs, and work with physicians regarding any medical assessments and contraindications that may need to be in place prior to training. However – in my opinion, history has shown that there are very little “direct from physician” referrals over the past 30 years, and hence, we are in the situation today in part due to this fact.

The Strengths of Medical Fitness

In the coming months many health professionals will still be looking for guidance from government officials in terms of COVID issues and restrictions. However – it should not preclude their efforts to become and maintain essential providers of specific health services to a wider section of the American public – who over 2020 became more obese, had more issues with isolation and depression, and suffered with financial issues. Fitness and wellness should be one of the things that people can do every day to improve their lives, and clubs and medical fitness professionals will play a part of this.

In my coming series for the MedFit Network, I will concentrate on diving into the details on a few of the issues that are a part of this introductory piece, and will look for your opinions on what you and your clubs are doing to move into the essential business and medical fitness realm.


Eric Durak is the President of MedHealthFit, and a 35- year veteran of the health industry. He has worked for health clubs, medical research centers, and continuing education. He has been at the forefront of the medical fitness movement and appreciates the opportunity to work with Med Fit Network to move medical fitness to the forefront of health care. Email him at edurak@medhealthfit.com

References

  • Rodriguez, M. Latest data shows US Health Club Industry Serves 70.2 Million. March 16, 2018. www.ihrsa.org
  • Pawlowski, A. Will covid make health clubs extinct? Worries mount for health clubs. Sept. 29, 2020. www.today.com
  • Club Industry staff. Health clubs are not spreading covid-19, according to MXM study. Sept. 2, 2020. www.clubindustry.com
  • Segran, E. Gyms aren’t coming back. Here’s how you will work out in the future. Jan. 4, 2021, www.fastcompany.com

MFN Industry Expert