Feature Article - November 2009
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Fit(ness) Designs

Meeting a Growing Need

By Jessica Royer Ocken


t's official. We could use some exercise. As testament, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health titled their 2009 report F as in Fat. Need we say more?

Despite the ongoing discussion about the need for improved fitness for kids, for those in the workforce, for, well, a lot of us, the adult obesity rate dropped in exactly zero states last year, and it rose in 23. At least 30 percent of children are overweight or obese in 30 states.

But there are a few positives to report (and not just that we're positively getting fatter). Those who are already hitting the gym are likely to continue doing so. "They realize exercise is an effective form of prevention," said Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the American Council on Exercise (ACE). As more and more people come to this realization, McCall believes they'll reconsider their position on the couch and start showing up at fitness centers. "Be ready for a greater diversity of people coming in as awareness is raised," he said.

The newest federal guidelines for exercise (released in October 2008) identify physical activity as a preventive tool and component of healthcare, he explained. "That's a huge policy shift…. There's going to be a long-term trickle down as people adjust to that model: Exercise is not just to be fit, it's necessary to maintain health and avoid illness," McCall said. "It won't happen overnight, but facilities will start to see new people."

So, start planning now for an influx of new patrons (some of whom may already be arriving), and consider that they're not all going to be consummate athletes. In fact, some may be directed to work out by their doctors, not their own desire, so a little extra effort could go a long way in winning them over. Some may be younger than you're used to (those rounder-than-they-should-be kids or a crop of little ones coming along with their newly invigorated parents), some may be older (seniors are living longer and are more active than ever), and some may need help getting started.

It's not likely you'll be all things to all people—especially with a budget to manage and a finite amount of space—but as you hone in on the users you're most likely to encounter, use the guide below for suggestions on ways to match your facility setup, equipment and programming with what they'll need to succeed at getting healthy.