Feature Article - March 2009
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Shaping Up

Staying on Top of Fitness Trends

By Dawn Klingensmith

Just What the Doctor Ordered

For his part, Gainsboro is more interested in the needs of the overweight and obese, whose discomfort in traditional gym settings needs to be addressed.

There's a small but growing movement afoot that defines exercise as both preventive and curative medicine, which is the second of three overarching trends addressed in this article.

"Exercise is medicine if taken in the proper doses," Gainsboro said, adding that it mitigates and in some cases reverses health problems that can lead to serious illnesses.

"I'm not going to be the guy who'll tell you about the next L.A. trend in fitness," Gainsboro said. "Sixty percent of the population is overweight. Sixty-six million adults 40 and older have elevated blood sugar. Where I see our industry trying to get to is using tried-and-true exercises to help those people get healthier."

Lindenhurst Health & Fitness Club in Lake Forest, Ill., also subscribes to the "medical fitness" concept, Willis said, and it's been good for business. Due in part to its ability to engage people who aren't your usual fitness buffs, the club saw a 10 percent growth in membership in 2008, even as one of the giant "brand name" fitness chains filed for its second bankruptcy.

If you need further proof that putting programs in place for the "unfit" could prove to be profitable, Gainsboro points to the fact that Harvard Medical School now offers a course on how to write a personalized prescription for exercise.

"There are a number of us really working toward this," he said. "We're like drug salesmen, except we sell exercise."

A key challenge is making people who aren't accustomed to exercise, let alone fitness facilities, feel comfortable and secure. This likely entails placing them in a separate area so they can privately master basic strength-training and cardiovascular exercises and equipment before moving into the mainstream.

The model Dedham Health & Athletic Complex has found successful is called 60/60, which is 60 days of fitness training for $60, for folks referred by physicians.

"We set realistic goals and see what happens at the end of 60 days," Gainsboro said.

Then, participants have the option of becoming a dues-paying member.

"Outcomes in certain cases will be astounding," Gainsboro said. "We've had people who start the program on five medications, and in the end, they only have to be on one."

This past year, out of 1,000 medical referrals, 650 signed up for 60/60. Upon completion, 45 percent of the participants became members, Gainsboro said. (Of the remaining 55 percent, about half reported they were joining other facilities, and half were dropouts.)