How facilities can determine if medical fitness is a good fit or not.
According to the Medical Fitness Association, the number of medical fitness centers has grown from 79 centers in 1985 to 1,400 in 2018. But with more and more operators considering medical fitness offerings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how can your facility determine if it’s a good fit or not?
Traci Marie Wagner, the director of medical fitness at Adirondack Health Medical Fitness Center, said knowing your demographic is key to making this decision.
“If your brand is geared toward your younger populations and it’s successful and working, then I wouldn’t suggest suddenly switching to a medical fitness model; it might actually not work best for your club,” said Wagner. “If your club’s target demographic is your older population or you’re noticing targeting the younger population isn’t working, adding more medical fitness offerings could be a great fit. Then, it’s making sure you can offer high-quality medical fitness offerings.”
However, to have these offerings, you must first have highly-trained and qualified staff. This is something Chris Flouer, the director of CoxHealth Fitness Centers Springfield, said is a non-negotiable. Hiring professionals who have a mindset to work with clients who may not be the traditional club members many of the industry trained to work with is vital for success.
“Medical fitness professionals require credentials most fitness professionals should have, but working with special needs or conditions can be intimidating for some,” said Flouer. “Our onboarding, training and protocols all help to make the fitness professional feel comfortable working with and helping our clients thrive even with the small wins.”
One small win since the pandemic — and a top reason many clubs are considering medical fitness offerings overall — is the shift in industry perspective as a whole. People are more focused on moving their body to feel good instead of looking good. Flouer has also seen a shift to mental and physical health on a level that is both realistic and holistic. Members at his facility are saying sculpting exercises are not as important as cardiopulmonary health or activities individuals will be able to sustain long term, which ultimately improve their quality of life.
“Many people have cycled through exercise programs for so long they now look for activities that will help them achieve results, but most importantly, that they will stick with,” explained Flouer. “Everyone wants to look and feel better, but we are seeing individuals who understand the ‘exercise is medicine’ concept and have adjusted their way of approaching workouts. It now is a long-term pursuit, not a drop in and out as the waistband tightens and loosens.”
While there has been a shift of mental health becoming more of a motivator, Robert Stedman, the executive director of The Works Family Health and Fitness Center, said they are still seeing success with weight management programs. In the last 12 months, they had 193 unique physicians out of 250 from the Mass General Hospital System referring patients to the club for various programs.
“In terms of engagement of our physician population, it’s incredible,” said Stedman. “They really support us and one of the big areas is our weight management program, particularly during COVID-19. People want to lose the ‘COVID 20’ they gained. Weight management is by far one of our most successful wellness programs we’re doing right now. Osteoporosis is very also big. And then the other one, of course, is programs related to stress.”
Medical fitness offerings are a great way to meet people where they are in your community and help them live healthier lives. Another way Stedman said they do this is through their virtual offerings.
“Right now, about 20% of our wellness offerings are done through virtual counseling,” explained Stedman. “That’s allowed us to reach a population who, for one reason or another, hasn’t been able to come into the club. Either they don’t have time to come into the club, or maybe they’re a little intimidated because of the way they look and are uncomfortable coming in. Or maybe it’s too far to drive.Whatever the reason is, they can now be seen virtually, and that’s getting some good traction with us.”
Overall, medical fitness can open a lot of doors for your facility. It can allow you to serve different populations and help you improve more lives. While the medical fitness model doesn’t make sense for everyone, any club can play a role in getting its local community to believe exercise, is in fact, medicine.
“These past couple of years have brought true meaning to the concept that exercise is medicine,” said Flouer. “Anyone in the fitness industry can take pride in the fact they are providing this, whether they are in a formal medical fitness setting or in any fitness setting. The challenge for all — medical, studios, commercial clubs, etc. — continues to be getting the majority of the population to get active and stay active. The benefits are proven. We just need to continue to find the motivators to get people moving.”