Coming of Age: First Inclusive Fitness Conference at Club Industry Achieves an Important Milestone
This is a moment in time we mustn't soon forget. Club Industry, one of the largest and most influential fitness conferences in the world, contacted NCHPAD staff several months ago and requested that the Center submit a specialized track at this year's conference in Chicago on Inclusive Fitness. Imagine that: A stand-alone set of presentations on fitness-related topics pertaining to people with disabilities, inside a conference that has largely focused on everything BUT disability for the past three decades! I almost can't believe what I'm saying but just to make sure I'm not dreaming, someone pinch me.
When the fitness industry first got its wings in the early 1970s and the "gold rush" of exercise programs, equipment, and facilities began, there was no one paying attention to underserved groups such as people with disabilities. The industry was largely built from the top down - reaching out to corporate exec-types and white-collar workers who presumably could, and would, pay for an expensive piece of exercise equipment or a club membership. Splattered across newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times were glamorous ads (some things haven't changed) targeting the rich and famous. Fitness wasn't for the faint of heart and certainly not for anyone with a disability, for such people presumably had no interest in improving their health and likely couldn't because of their disability. But times have changed. Forty years after Jacki Sorenson and Jane Fonda put fitness on the map in most American households, Club Industry has taken upon itself to infuse disability content into its upscale fitness conference.
|Graph showing the registration in the club industry|
I think the fitness industry is starting to get it. Future growth in memberships and equipment must come from a new generation of users - people with disabilities. The Body by Jake types have already saturated the market and that image isn't going to cut it for millions of people with disabilities. What they are looking for is a fitness facility that is architecturally and programmatically accessible, employs professionals who know something about their disability, and provides an atmosphere that makes them feel welcome.
What we have to do in this decade is keep pushing the industry to target a new generation of users who have never seen the inside of a fitness facility. Generation 'X' is waiting at the door and club owners must shift their paradigm towards recruiting new members with disabilities, people with chronic health conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and asthma, older adults, and overweight youth. With only 14% of the U.S. population currently holding a club membership, there is plenty of room for growth.
But how will this happen when all the health care dollars are being spent on drugs and medical care? Well, one way is for local, state and federal officials to sit down with private health insurers to discuss the possibility of extending fitness memberships to people who cannot afford them as part of a 'drug' prescription plan. Some HMOs are already doing this for seniors. We know exercise can have effects similar to those of drugs on physiological and psychological health, so why not make it part of a national health care plan? The savings on reduced hospitalizations and other forms of medical care could be huge. As we approach the end of another decade, 40 years after Jacki Sorenson put on her first pair of aerobic dance shoes and showed America that exercise could be fun, Club Industry welcomes the dawn of a new era referred to as Inclusive Fitness. And now there's no turning back.
For questions or comments, please contact James Rimmer at email@example.com