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The Way Forward for the Health Club Industry

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Mike Alpert, the chief operating officer of Smart Health Clubs, shares his take on the COVID-19 pandemic and the way forward for the health club industry.

During the past several months, I have listened to conversations and concerns about the long-term effect the COVID-19 pandemic will have on our industry. As with most discussions there are two sides: those who feel we will never return to the pre-COVID days, and those who believe we will come back stronger than ever.  

I believe the glass is more than half full. Members are hungry for the socialization that takes place in the club, and many have suffered without it for too long now. I also believe there needs to be more focus on prevention and wellness programming. And who better to create and deliver these programs than the health club industry? As my good friend Dr. Bob Sallis says, “Health clubs need to be places where it is more than how a person looks in a bathing suit. They need to be more about hearts and lungs than abs and buns.”  

We have been saying the health care and fitness industries need to work together. Traditional medicine was not prepared for COVID-19 where we saw hospitals overrun with patients. More than a year later there are still parts of the country that remain closed. We have yet to realize the financial impact COVID-19 has had on our country and the world. 

We need to do a better job of educating people on how to manage their health care and costs. We must put more emphasis on exercise and nutrition. Over 75% of the U.S. population is overweight and 40% is clinically obese. If these statistics don’t send a message to our state and national governments, something is wrong. If we continue, the costs to treat the chronic medical conditions that result from this are going to bankrupt the system. 

Medical fitness addresses this by combining a blend of exercise, nutrition, education and medicine. Integrative medicine is healing-oriented medicine that takes into account the whole person, including all aspects of lifestyle. It emphasizes the therapeutic relationship between practitioners and patients. It is informed by evidence and makes use of all appropriate therapies. This can include relaxation, meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, vibration therapy and other types of mind-body programming.    

Telemedicine is already part of the traditional medical paradigm. This is where a patient can call or go online and communicate their symptoms to get advice on whether they need to see the doctor or if their symptoms can be treated at home. 

Through a digital platform, a physician can refer a patient to a club, personal trainer or a registered dietician (RD) to deliver an exercise and nutrition program virtually. If the club doesn’t have an RD, you could use one from another club. The RD will be able to take a picture of the member’s insurance card and see what programs are available in their plan through the Affordable Care Act or Medicare under the wellness provision, and whether they are reimbursable. The member could be put on a bioimpedance scale like an InBody or Myzone, and all the data and progress can be shared from the club to the physician — in an encrypted and HIPPA compliant way — and stored in the patient’s medical file.  

Some qualified programs treating people who are diabetic or pre-diabetic, or have hypertension or cardiopulmonary disease, are reimbursable and I believe more will soon qualify for third-party reimbursement. Your club needs to be positioned to benefit from what is coming. 

Leadership is a lot of things, but one thing is for sure: leaders are optimistic. Position yourself to be ready to board the train before it leaves the station. Exercise is medicine.

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Mike Alpert

Mike Alpert is the chief operating officer at Smart Health Clubs. He can be reached at Mike@Smarthealthclubs.com or visit www.smarthealthclubs.com.

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