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Medical Fitness Centers: Where Exercise is Medicine

medical fitness

In 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Medical Association (AMA) launched Exercise is Medicine (EIM), a health initiative to encourage physicians to prescribe physical activity as part of their patients’ treatment plans.

Three years later, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed. Beyond the goals of reducing uninsured rates and improving access to medical care, the ACA also focused on prevention and wellness to improve the health of Americans and, in turn, reduce healthcare costs.

For the healthcare industry, EIM and ACA started a paradigm shift from a reactive medical model that focuses on disease to a proactive wellness model that promotes and supports healthy lifestyles to prevent or manage health conditions.

This shift has also had an impact on the fitness industry. In the past, the healthcare and fitness worlds orbited on different planes. Today, those worlds are aligned, with the fitness industry playing a more prominent role in the healthcare continuum of care model, as evidenced by the growth of medical fitness centers.

There are currently over 1,400 medical fitness centers in the U.S. and that number is growing by about 4 percent per year, said Bob Boone, the president and CEO of the Medical Fitness Association, a non-profit membership-based organization that provides service and support to medical fitness professionals.

“There has been consistent 4 percent growth since approximately 2012,” said Boone. This growth aligns closely with the passage of ACA. “The fastest growing component of our membership is commercial fitness centers interested in the medical fitness model,” he added.

For many of these clubs, medical fitness represents an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their competitors. By aligning themselves with healthcare providers and offering medically-integrated, outcome-based programs and services for non-traditional members, clubs can reach a much larger population than the roughly 19 percent who are traditional health club members.

It’s important to note for clubs to achieve success as a certified medical fitness facility, they must go all in and commit to the process, which includes, among other things, strict adherence to medical fitness standards and guidelines. According to the MFA, these include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Active and regular medical oversight
  • Certified and licensed staff
  • Disease management and prevention programs
  • Testing and outcome tracking
  • Quality management with a focus on measurable results

Another important factor for success is having exercise equipment, like recumbent cross trainers, that can accommodate deconditioned or obese users. Designed for accessibility and safety, equipment like seated cross trainers provide a total-body cardio workout that supports users as they travel on the path to wellness.   


Jane Benskey is the marketing communications specialist for NuStep, LLC, maker of four recumbent cross trainer models. For more information, visit nustep.com.


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