The State of the Converging Fitness and Medical Wellness Industries: Q&A with Kevin Steele

(Photo courtesy Kevin Steele.)

In recent years, the proliferation of concepts such as "exercise is medicine" has prompted paradigm shifts in both the fitness and medical worlds. In many cases, these once mutually exclusive disciplines have converged. Healthcare companies are hiring strength and cardio coaches, while health club operators are seeking trainers with medical backgrounds.

It's an exciting time with many newly emerging opportunities for professionals on both sides of the fence. However, the integration process can present no shortage of challenges for facility operators and decision makers. To further explore these ideas, we caught up with Dr. Kevin Steele, president at PTA Global/PTontheNet. Steele is chairing the Wellness track at the 2017 Club Industry Show, which will be held Oct. 4-6 at the Hilton Chicago. The track, which occurs on Oct. 4, will feature two sessions for club operators considering getting into medical wellness and five sessions for those already involved. Companies at the beginning stages are also encouraged to attend the three sessions for more advanced operators after the first two beginner sessions. 

Q: Wellness has become such an integral concept in the fitness industry. How has its implementation in the health club world changed in just the last year?

A: The reality is that there is currently a "sub-set" of club operators that are doing a good job of providing "wellness services," but the majority of the fitness industry still has a long way to go. Many are still focused on the traditional membership sales model and haven't developed other supportive products and services.

Q: With that in mind, is there a certain mindset you have in assembling the Wellness track for this year’s show? What will make this year’s programming different?

A: Absolutely. Our objective for this year's Wellness track is to provide tangible and practical information that participants in our audience will be able to immediately implement, should they choose to offer some form of wellness programming/services.

Q: When it comes to education, what remains one of the most common wellness-related missteps from a club operator standpoint?

A: It is the operators underestimating the details and comprehensive planning necessary to design and develop a successful wellness program.

Q: With rapidly developing technology and competition, should all health clubs today have a rock-hard wellness strategy in place, and why?

A: Absolutely. These programs can provide differentiation, help new member acquisition, member retention, assist with recruiting better educated trainers and improve community relations.

Q: At last year's show, Dr. James Lindberg made a strong case for "exercise is medicine." Can you speak to this, and to medical wellness as a proactive, preventative approach to healthy living?

A: We know that “exercise is medicine.” There are now years of medical and scientific research that validates this; we have the government, medicine, science and academia all aligned around this same message. Prevention is no longer "important, but critical" in today's society. We in the fitness industry have the tangible assets to provide a key component of healthcare and, to a certain extent, disease management. This is what Dr. Lindberg so nicely discussed and is implementing in his group practice. We will have a panel discussion in our track titled "Exercise is Medicine" to share how powerful it truly is. If exercise was a pill, you couldn't keep it on the shelf, and you could essentially charge whatever you wanted to because of all of the wonderful physiological and psychological benefits.

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