The fitness industry is always evolving, and a major development in recent years has been the integration of medical fitness programming and education in health clubs. As it turns out, this component will be critical to the industry’s evolution.
“I have felt for years a major part of our industry’s future is medical fitness,” said Mike Alpert, the CEO of The Claremont Club. “That means merging healthcare with fitness and getting experts in both industries to work together to promote exercise as medicine, which is especially important when we know the powerful effect exercise has on health.”
According to Alpert, education from both the fitness and healthcare industries is critical. “We do a poor job, as a country, in educating people on both healthcare and managing their healthcare costs,” he said. “We have to look to more prevention and wellness, and I think our industry plays a big role there.”
Many organizations throughout the U.S. have created more initiatives to encourage healthier eating habits and more active lifestyles in recent years. The next step is getting fitness services to be approved as treatment options by insurance companies.
“Industry-wide, you’re seeing movements incentivizing people to stay active,” said Alpert. “And we’ll hopefully get the government to start allowing people to use part of a health savings account (HSA) or flexible spending account (FSA) to pay for health club services like recreational sports, equipment and fitness classes.”
A major step to seeing this come to fruition is the passing of PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) legislation, which was recently reported out of the House Ways and Means Committee, and will now be considered by the House of Representatives.
Medical fitness is a legitimate treatment option for someone with a chronic injury, and Alpert believes it should be classified as such. “You can get a doctor’s prescription for barometric bypass surgery, but you can’t get reimbursement, in most cases, for being sent to a nutritionist or personal trainer,” he said. “This makes no sense.”
Coordinating the fitness and healthcare industries won’t happen overnight, but small steps toward that end will make a huge difference. Many clubs, including The Claremont Club, have specialized programs to aid individuals in injury recovery.
Getting referrals from doctors’ offices for medical fitness services will benefit medical patients and the fitness industry by enhancing patients’ recoveries and driving more foot traffic into health clubs.
“The end game is bridging that gap between healthcare and fitness, and working with fitness professionals in every community to get referrals from physicians,” said Alpert. “They’ll start sending patients with chronic injuries or illnesses into accredited clubs to start happier, healthier lifestyles. Industry-wide, I think that’s where we’re going.”