Last week’s IHRSA conference in San Diego was a great experience for industry newcomers and veterans alike. Malcolm Gladwell, best-selling author and staff writer for The New Yorker Magazine, delivered an outstanding keynote address that addressed some burning questions that many in our industry have asked over the past decade: If the majority of people recognize the powerful benefits of exercise, why are inactivity rates and obesity at an all-time high? What will it take to reach what Gladwell calls the “tipping point”, or “level at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable”? There must be a better way for us, as fitness and wellness professionals, to reach out to inactive populations.
If most people believe that exercise can improve both mental and physical health, why is the call to action being ignored? Where is the disconnect? If you understand the theory behind stages of change, it is easy to see why there is not a simple answer. What propels someone from “could” to “should” to “will” is very personal. Both internal and external circumstances can act on individuals to precipitate change. Triggers can include changes to the following dynamics:
1) Relevance. Unfortunately, it often takes a personal health crisis for individuals to prioritize changes to lifestyle behaviors. A medical emergency or a diagnosed illness can make change urgent.
2) Pleasure vs. pain. The acute discomfort in creating lifestyle change can trump the anticipation of longer-term benefits, which typically take time to realize. Sometimes bumping up against an emotional marker—perhaps reaching a new high on the bathroom scale or having someone make a comment that really hits home—makes the prospect of NOT changing even more unbearable than the difficulty of change.
3) Accessibility. If you think of points 1 & 2 above as “mental proximity”, accessibility is the actual availability of tools for change. These tools might include access to experts, programs, health clubs—any entity that is a vehicle for the desired change. Will simply having improved access to resources make people desire to change? Probably not, because unless the underlying readiness to change is there, it will not be a lasting endeavor. But, notwithstanding, accessibility is a critical factor for success, and our industry should be focused on improving outreach strategies.
Finding logical access points for individuals interested in change is where fitness and wellness professionals can start a fitness revolution. Throwing open the gym doors is not enough. We need to actively seek opportunities outside of our club’s four walls and build relationships in our communities so that we can influence individuals contemplating change, as well as those who are ready to act. Corporate wellness and medical fitness are prospective areas of growth for our industry. Last week at IHRSA, I spoke on corporate wellness and a few of my colleagues spoke on medical fitness. Next blog, I’ll recap our session highlights with some suggested resources and strategies.