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Essential Business: Making a Case for the Fitness Industry

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essential business

The term “essential business” has been a hot topic this year. For the last six months the fitness industry has been decimated by the impact of the coronavirus after being labeled nonessential by government authorities. In many state and local governments, the industry has been seen as an entertainment or leisure activity, comparing it to bowling alleys and movie theaters when talking about reopening. I imagine most in the industry would agree they’ve been frustrated with this nonessential classification.

So how can the industry evolve to be seen as an essential business?

The fitness industry is primed to make a difference, and there’s research that supports it. There has never been a time in our industry’s history where the significance of being fit has been so prevalent, as the coronavirus has brought to the forefront the risk of having underlying health conditions. The reality is the people who need the fitness industry the most do not join our facilities or participate in our programs. The opportunity for change is now.

The emphasis on the benefits of physical activity from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Heath Organization in promoting good health practices to decrease susceptibility to COVID-19 only further reinforce the need for the unfit individual to take action. We as an industry need to pivot and embrace this opportunity to open our doors to a new clientele base and offer programs and services to meet people where they are.

The Research

For 50 years, Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas, has promoted and proven the relevancy of cardiovascular fitness as it pertains to improving the quality and quantity of life. Multiple studies have revealed the benefits of exercise and being cardiovascularly fit, the most significant being The Cooper Institute’s 1989 study, “Physical Fitness and All-Cause Mortality.” This landmark study scientifically proved a person could reduce their chances of dying from all causes by 58% and increase their life expectancy six years, simply by meeting a minimal level of fitness.

Since 1970, Cooper Clinic has measured the impact fitness has on the quality of life of its patients, as it relates to conditions such as fatigue, heartburn, low back pain, depression, headaches and difficulty sleeping. This data collection makes up the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study, the principal research asset of The Cooper Institute with more than 317,000 records from 112,000 individuals, representing more than 2.2 million person-years of observation. This is one of the most highly referenced databases in the world.

We know cardiovascular fitness is a vital sign. In 2017, the American Heart Association published a scientific statement in “Circulation” stating cardiovascular fitness should be treated as a clinical vital sign of health. By considering cardiovascular fitness for risk classification, the medical community has a unique opportunity to improve the prevention and treatment of disease, as we do daily at Cooper Clinic.

It’s also important to mention research has shown a significant correlation between cardiovascular fitness levels and health care costs, with an approximately 40% annual reduction for individuals 65 years or older with high midlife cardiovascular fitness versus low midlife cardiovascular fitness. So, being physically fit can not only improve your health and longevity, it can also benefit your wallet.

The Positive

If nothing else positive comes out of the coronavirus crisis, the attention now focused on the importance of managing one’s health is extremely encouraging. If the fitness industry can establish itself in the health care delivery system as the prescription to a better, healthier life, we can redefine the idea of fitness with consumers who need it the most.

We need to rethink relationships with local medical communities and how industry providers operate within their organizations to provide services and/or programming to individuals who are unfit, unmotivated and need fitness the most. Establishing this connectivity as a partner of the health care community in the continuum of care would, without a doubt, reposition the fitness industry as a truly essential business.

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Brad Wilkins

Brad Wilkins is president of Cooper Health and Fitness, overseeing Cooper Fitness CenterCooper Spa, Cedars Woodfire Grill, Cooper HotelCooper Wellness Strategies and Cooper Complete® nutritional supplements. In 2015, he was named senior vice president of Cooper Aerobics Enterprises and chief operating officer of Cooper Wellness Strategies. Wilkins joined Cooper Fitness Center in 1996—beginning as an intern and then working his way from professional fitness trainer to fitness director to general manager in 2010 to his current roles. Wilkins received his Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science from Hardin-Simmons University and his Master of Business Administration specializing in Business Management and Entrepreneurship from Southern Methodist University.

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