Health News Digest

August 8, 2011

Fitness, Health Clubs, And Good Health


By  Michael D. Shaw

Visitors to this website—and nearly every other person on the face of the Earth—are concerned about good health. But, what exactly is “good health”?

At first blush, this could be the absence of disease. Upon further reflection, most would expand the concept. A widely quoted definition comes from the World Health Organization, that became official in 1948, and has remained unchanged since then: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

For simplicity and sheer practicality, though, Dr. Patricia Raymond just about nails it: “It’s when your physical being does not limit the things that you want to accomplish.” I suppose Dr. Pat implies that lacking a desire to accomplish anything would indicate mental illness.

Focusing in from these generalities, many of us are searching for ways to become more proactive about our health. This is certainly admirable, and is a relatively recent phenomenon—especially in its expansion beyond the “health nuts” of the 1950s and early 60s. Sadly, being proactive still runs contrary to the philosophy of organized health care in essentially every country. We have stated many times in this column that such organized “health care” is really disease care.

As such, our group is striving to keep out of the so-called health care system, and tends to concentrate on diet, exercise, and stress reduction. Exercise is utilized to promote fitness, which involves at least these components:

  • Cardiorespiratory endurance
  • Muscular strength
  • Muscular endurance
  • Body composition (fat versus lean mass)
  • Flexibility

To achieve fitness goals, a surprisingly large number of Americans belong to health clubs. According to figures published by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), U.S. health club membership reached 50.2 million in 2010—a 10 percent increase over 2009.

“One year does not constitute a trend, but it is certainly a positive sign that 2010 saw real membership growth after four years of treading water,” said Jay Ablondi, IHRSA’s executive vice president of global products. “The health club industry has weathered the economic storm of the past few years better than many other industries.”

On the other hand, health club member usage declined from 102.4 days in 2009 to 97.5 visits in 2010. Thus, there is strong interest in what club owners call “engaging” members. Group fitness classes are a key to this engagement strategy, and dance-oriented classes, such as Zumba®, are a big part of the picture.

Katie Hughes is founder and CEO of Dance Yourself Fit LLC, manufacturers of the popular Slip-On Dancers, a patent-pending pair of innovative bands that fit on regular shoes and provide adjustable traction, a boon for dance fitness classes. Recently, she gave me some insight into this aspect of the fitness industry.

Everyone is looking for a shortcut to getting fit, and it’s a lot easier to stick with a program that you enjoy. I’m not sure you get that fun factor with the more traditional cardio exercises. Many people are also seeing good ab and hip development with the dance programs.

I asked what it is about group fitness that makes it so favored by health club members. Katie observed that a good instructor will use the positive energy in the room to make the experience something that just can’t be achieved at home. If the goal is to retain members, that’s about as engaging as it can get!

Katie tells me that her products will be on display at the upcoming IDEA World Fitness Convention in Los Angeles (August 11-14).

Finally, does exercise promote better health? While most people think so, actual hard evidence is sorely lacking. No doubt, exercise makes us feel better, and it can be argued that if you feel better, you are also probably more healthy. Good luck proving it, however.

As to exercise fighting obesity, our number one health issue (although some would rate stress just as high), the picture is also murky. When you consider that a 160 pound (72.6 kg) individual running a mile in six minutes will only burn 110 calories, it is clear that diet is the major factor. Yet, being in an exercise/fitness mentality will tend to promote a better diet in most people, and will usually also reduce stress.