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Time to change the game

Nigel Wallace explains that the fitness and health Industries do not speak the same language so to work together, fitness needs to adopt a different approach.

n the past 10 years I have consistently listened to debates about how the industry should engage and align with the health sector. I have also witnessed how difficult it is to actually engage with health and how the health sector is sceptical to grow a relationship beyond exercise referral. Certainly there are examples of great initiatives and productive relationships but these are too few and far between.


UKactive is now promoting that we are in the ‘health’ not the ‘fitness’ business and whilst I can appreciate the benefits of this positioning, I do think we need to be careful about over-stating our role. Health is a vast universe and if we want to truly play a part we need to define our space and mark our boundaries; we need to raise our professional bar and offer evidence-based protocols that are understood and endorsed by the medical profession. We’re good at ‘fitness’ and fitness speak but this is not necessarily the language of health. If the industry is looking to promote itself into a higher league is now the time to adopt a different game plan?

In January the Scottish Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and Faculties released a positioning statement calling for initiatives which tackle physical inactivity to be given equal billing to smoking-cessation and the harmful use of alcohol. In the paper, accepted by the Scottish government, was the widespread adoption of evidence-based health behaviour change protocols and interventions. This is a significant positioning statement and if government support should follow, our sector could carve out a very significant role in embedding this practice.

In addition, the UKactive Research Institute has published in peer review journals clear evidence of the power of physical activity counselling delivered within health club and leisure centre settings; evidence-based protocols that work and help people become more active - and incidentally drive membership subscriptions. This has to be the impetus for our sector to grasp an opportunity that is within easy reach.

The UKactive research demonstrates the positive impact of holding client-centred, motivating and supportive conversations about becoming and staying active. This approach is very powerful and moves us away from merely prescribing exercise; it empowers the client to make a positive commitment based upon, and in full understanding of, why they want to be active.

The tools and techniques in this coaching approach to physical activity are not complex but they are a learned skill

70 I body LIFE 2 I 2015

“We need to raise our professional bar and offer evidence- based protocols that are understood and endorsed by the medical profession”

and require a significant shift in the manner in which client consultations and subsequent conversations are handled.

By adopting this approach our industry will offer a language

and a protocol that aligns with health, will make a significant impact on the amount of people that start and stay active and will provide the game-changer that will help us smash through the 13% ceiling. Numbers of members in the UK has been pretty stagnant for 5 years, we need to change-up our offer and perhaps this latest report combined with the evidence from the Research Institute provide the much needed catalyst. It requires a little investment and a sustained transition to embed a new way of working but the benefits could be significant for operators, our staff and those millions in need of greater support to start and stay active. If we want the game-changer we need to be bold and start changing the game.

Nigel Wallace is Client Services Director with Lifetime Training since 2009. Prior to this he enjoyed 4 years as an independent consultant and director of two successful B2B events, plus five years as Executive Director of the Fitness Industry Association (now ukactive). Nigel holds an MSc in Exercise and Health Science and is a respected voice in the UK fitness industry.

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