"Non-Essential" Never Again
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Eric Durak, MS
"COVID-19 has just so vividly exposed our unhealthy lifestyles... You go through the list of risks for COVID-19, especially dying of COVID-19 or being severely ill from COVID-19; those are the diseases of inactivity."
-Robert Sallis, MD - Keiser Permanente, Fontana, CA
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In the first part of this article series on the essential nature of the fitness industry, I discussed some of the issues that have affected the industry and those that need to be addressed regarding the concept of the importance of health clubs in the landscape of our current culture and where we could find ourselves in the very near future within healthcare.
The history of health clubs, gyms and health sanitariums have had their prominence within the health culture in the United States, starting with John Kellogg's Battle Creek Sanitarium, which at its core, helped people with medical conditions to heal through nutrition, exercise and health modalities. The YMCA began what we may consider the first national chain of health clubs, and Jack LaLanne opened the first modern health spa in California in the 1930s.
What may have set the course for health clubs not becoming part of medicine was that people like LaLanne considered hospitals for sick people and that maintaining health could be done at home and with the use of spas. Although LaLanne was one of the first trainers to work with seniors, it was not considered a medical or "special population" group at that time.
The New Reset Applied to Fitness
The issue of COVID-19 and its effects on all aspects of society has, in turn, had as profound an effect on every waking moment of our lives short of world war or the Great Depression. There have been people ready to take advantage of the situation for many types of reasons, but in looking at what has happened to the fitness industry, we have seen a shakeup to the core. One example is the closing of the Claremont Club in Los Angeles, CA, which housed the nation's top program for spinal cord post rehabilitation. An example of how a medical fitness program could have profound impacts on medicine, the Claremont Club nonetheless was closed during COVID-19 and may never open their doors again (as of this writing). It is something that should never be allowed to happen in the industry again.
This aspect of health clubs being an essential business starts with the association of obesity and insulin resistance and its role as the number one causal factor in the increased risk of COVID-19. In a conversation with industry giant Bob Stauble, he states that the association of obesity and increased risk for infection should be a "blinding flash of obvious" to anyone in the wellness industry. The link is simply the strength of one's immune system. Over 40% of Americans have full blown Metabolic Syndrome (present as high-risk factors for three of the five biomarkers used to determine your risk), and many more have 1 - 2 of the five. After months and years of over-taxing the immune system, it becomes bankrupt and much less able to fight ANY infection (viral or bacterial), much less recover from an illness.
It is, therefore, the job of the medical fitness community to use our knowledge of exercise and immunity (developed eloquently by Dr. Dave Nieman) and use moderate strength and aerobic training to enhance the ability of the body to boost immune cell production, clear metabolic waste and enhance (through all lifestyle practice improvements such as medical fitness, functional foods, supplements and advanced mindfulness techniques.
First, let's look at the trends in medicine as they relate to fitness. After one of the first articles on fitness working with medicine back in 1988, we now have organizations such as the American College of Surgeons and the American Cancer Society endorsing exercise as part of the scope of practice and care for cancer patients and survivors. This is a huge step forward for the industry, as I have stated for years that cancer exercise programs are the "new cardiac rehab." With the endorsement of the oncology community, it is simply a matter of setting up local relationships with treatment centers and support groups. Another recent report from the Harvard Newsletter details that, indeed, exercise is part of the medical process and should be used as an adjunct for many (if not all) medical conditions.
Getting back to metabolic disorders, in reading some medical posts (and many online threads) our immune system simply cannot handle this type of "novel" virus. I don't believe this for a second. We would not have survived to this point in our history without people developing immune resistance to many types of bacterial or viral loads and in much worse living conditions. Second, as a nation, we should be much more concerned with obesity and metabolic disorders, as they are the major cause of insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. By cleaning up our obesity-related issues (inflammatory markers, lipid levels, blood viscosity levels, reducing body fat), we can not only reduce cardiovascular risk factors but enhance the immune system as well. It will respond in kind with the exercise levels imposed upon it.
Exercise may be one of the most important aspects of health improvement, and working with public health officials on a method for improving health will be a way to maintain health club essential status. I spoke about the new Healthy Stats software from WellD Health from Virginia, which now allows trainers to detail assessment and day-to-day training programs for special population clients and retrieve stats on single member's information or hundreds of members in a population health format. WellD Health also works with Integrative Health from Los Angeles to obtain low-cost blood labs for the industry as well. Another game changing step forward that will allow for members and professional staff to understand how blood lab results (which doctors state make up close to 90% of their treatment decisions) can become a benchmark for specificity of training and become the outcomes-based programming that will "sell" to physicians, support groups and health plans.
One of the most recent industry reports again states that there is no association between working out in a health club and increasing risks of COVID-19. From this information, health club owners should be pressing their state officials to open up ALL health clubs and retool training programs as they are retooling cleanliness protocols.
The concept of "getting back to normal" should be the furthest issue from our minds. In the health club profession, the new normal should represent health clubs as an alternative to our dysfunctional healthcare system and a place where persons with metabolic issues can go and know they will make a positive impact on their health, reduce their burden of disease and become part of the new membership that will strengthen the health offerings of clubs, thereby strengthening their status as an essential business.
To view the list of References for this article, please go to bit.ly/clubinsider101.