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Recap: Making Exercise Essential


On September 9, IHRSA, REX Roundtables and Club Solutions Magazine presented the 23rd installment of a weekly virtual roundtable series aimed at helping clubs navigate through the COVID-19 crisis.

Panelists included Amy Bantham, DrPH, MS, MPP, CEO/Founder, Move to Live More; Robert Sallis, MD, Co-director, Sports Medicine Fellowship Program, Kaiser Permanente & Clinical Professor of Family Medicine, University of California Riverside School of Medicine; Bill McBride, the co-founder, president and CEO of Active Wellness; and Blair McHaney, the CEO of MXM and owner of WORX health clubs. The discussion was led and moderated by Brent Darden, the interim president and CEO of IHRSA, and chair of REX Roundtables.

The following is a summary of top takeaways from the discussion, centered on changing the perception of health clubs and the importance of physical activity for the general population:


  • Part of the problem for the fitness industry has been selling products and services, without executing on and marketing the healthy living aspect of health and wellness.
  • Becoming credible in the medical community is a major barrier for the fitness industry.
  • Policymakers have lumped health clubs in with casinos, hotels and restaurants — this points to a lack of understanding that physical activity is essential and part of the solution.
  • New research has surfaced that points to obesity increasing the risk of getting sick, including contracting COVID-19. This information should be part of the fitness industry’s messaging.
  • The pandemic has exposed how unhealthy the U.S. is as a whole.
  • Rather than focus on preventative practices and healthy lifestyles when it comes to chronic illnesses and diseases, consumers have been conditioned to wait in their homes for a vaccine or procedure. In fact, some research suggests vaccines don’t produce the right results in patients who are obese. This is a trend the fitness industry has to lead the charge in reversing.
  • Many states are trying to get away from labeling certain businesses as essential versus non-essential as they’re trying to determine who should be open or not.
  • There are great ways to mitigate the risk — it’s up to clubs to make a point to demonstrate new procedures for cleaning, distancing and exercising outdoors. If Costco can open safely, why shouldn’t health clubs be able to do the same?
  • It’s important to show policymakers that health clubs aren’t “COVID-19 hot spots.” If clubs are able to show a good “visit-to-virus” ratio, their chances of getting reopened and staying open will dramatically increase.
  • The fitness industry would benefit greatly from third-party research and data about the safety of their facilities and services, giving them the ability to refute the claim they are less safe than bars and restaurants.
  • In general, people going to the gym are relatively healthy, which reduces their risk of contracting COVID-19.
  • Health clubs have made fitness intimidating in the past, which makes it difficult to sell the idea of physical activity as essential to well-being to the majority of the population.
  • Clubs have made marketing confusing — encourage members to simply walk for half an hour every day, for example. In fact, the average person doesn’t need a massive amount of activity to remain healthy on a basic level. The fitness industry needs to simplify its messaging.
  • The fitness industry can’t focus on helping the fit get fitter. Clubs need to position themselves in the community as an accessible resource for getting and staying healthy.
  • Work to establish a referral system with medical institutions in the community, in which physicians trust clubs enough to refer patients. Use member testimonials and results data to solidify this partnership and referral system.
    • To access the roadmap for health and fitness centers to build trust with physicians, click here.
  • The secondary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be devastating. Cases of depression, suicide, diabetes, and other chronic diseases and illnesses have drastically increased. Health clubs can be part of the solution and have to position themselves as such.
  • We’re in two pandemics — the obesity pandemic is fueling the infectious disease pandemic.
  • It’s important to remember health clubs are in the behavior change business, and have the ability to positively influence the physical and mental well-being of the community.
  • There’s a treatment for COVID-19: exercise. Exercise is medicine, and that applies to every chronic disease or illness.
  • The fitness industry is about preventing and managing disease. Physical activity is a way to protect ourselves and our families, and mitigate our risk for severe illness.

To access the on-demand version of this webinar, click here.

To access the audio-only version of this webinar, click here.

UPCOMING: Don’t miss the 24th installment of our virtual roundtable series, “Successful Strategies for Shaping Your Future: Formation & Functions of State Alliances,” on Wednesday, September 16 at 2 p.m. EST. Limited seats are available. Click here to reserve your spot.

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former assistant editor of Club Solutions Magazine.

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