Fitness Industry Needs to Present a More Inclusive Image
|James H. Rimmer, Ph.D., Director|
Now that we seem to have the world's attention focused on the enormous health benefits that can be derived from various forms of physical activity, this is an ideal time for fitness professionals, and the fitness industry as a whole, to widen their net and begin to recruit new members with physical, cognitive and sensory disabilities. Sadly, many people with disabilities are still confronted with too many barriers to participation. Some of these barriers have nothing to do with the fitness instructor, such as lack of finances to pay for a fitness membership or not knowing that exercise can improve their condition (i.e., reduce pain and fatigue). But other barriers fall squarely on the shoulders of fitness professionals, including lack of knowledge on how to accommodate people with disabilities in individual and group exercise classes (yes, people with disabilities would like to participate in kick boxing, spinning classes, tai chi and so on), and poor attitudes displayed either intentionally or unintentionally by exercise instructors. I recall one of our participants complaining about a health club we had recommended to her after completing an exercise intervention in our Center. A fitness instructor helped her get on a certain strength machine but then quickly left the area not realizing that she needed help getting off the machine! Ongoing problems with attitudes and knowledge of the existing staff forced her to drop out of the program.
The fitness industry must begin to realize that much of the world does not revolve around the young and restless. No matter what Fashion Avenue would like us to believe, thin models and washboard stomachs make up a very small part of our society. Most people struggle with excess body weight, asthma, arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and so on. While the fitness industry continues to streamline their message towards healthy individuals in the 20 to 40 age group, waiting rooms in hospitals and clinics overflow with older citizens and people with disabilities and chronic health conditions who desperately need a little physical activity. The fitness industry must begin to realize that the future growth market will come from a rapidly expanding population of people with disabilities and aging baby boomers with chronic health problems. The sooner the industry realizes this, the easier it will be to universally design their facilities to meet the needs of all its members.