Is the fitness industry in need of a shake up to help those most in need?
The advocacy for movement and physical activity has never been more important, with one in four people in the UK doing fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a week. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that 60% of adults in Europe are now overweight or obese and that 1.2 million people will die prematurely due to obesity each year. Is the fitness industry in need of a big shake up to help those most in need?
Here, David Langridge, Managing Director of fitness content specialist, 1FitLife, discusses how inclusive the leisure sector really is:
In recent years the sector has begun to address the need to welcome everyone, no matter what their level of fitness or ability, but it still faces a number of challenges. For instance, how many understand the emotional barriers that might be stopping individuals from getting started when it comes to being physically active? Past negative experiences, lack of confidence and straight-up fear can all stand in the way of someone accessing physical activity. Too many operators shut the door on potential new customers by not providing the facilities, inductions, modifications and equipment for some people to comfortably access physical activity. Group exercise, especially, doesn’t cater for everyone, be that due to injury, disability, size/weight, health conditions or level of fitness. Visit most clubs and the programmes assume a certain level of physical ability, not even addressing emotional barriers. For example, if someone is unable to stand during classes or needs additional support to balance, is there something readily available for them to hold on to? Are seated options given as a standard choice? Plus, by their very nature, a group experience can be intimidating for someone feeling apprehensive or fearful. Are classes created with those lacking physical and emotional confidence, who most often need our support, in mind?
It’s no wonder that consumers of online fitness praise the inclusive nature of the content frequently being created in comparison to in person training. All activity has value:
Increasingly at 1FitLife we are seeing a shift in the type of digital workouts our clients want to create; with a softer, gentler, more holistic approach. This, to me, is a positive change. The Government’s guideline of 150 minutes of activity a week is so far removed from some people’s real-life experiences that it can feel unachievable, and instead of being motivational, leaves people feeling beaten before they’ve even started. The leisure sector must have the ability to meet people where they are. It’s essential to
appreciate that all activity, however small, has value; some is better than none.
We’ve been working with leading weight-management organisation, Slimming World, to produce online exercise content to complement their Body Magic physical activity programme. Launched in 2003, it’s a totally tailorable support programme that’s been developed in collaboration with behaviour change experts and designed to fit in with the Government’s recommendations for physical activity. It supports Slimming World’s members to get active from their own personal starting point, even if they don’t do any exercise at all, and to build active habits at their own pace. It recognises a wide range of movement and active habits, right from every day choices, such as sitting still less and taking stairs instead of lifts, all while praising and celebrating the member for every milestone they achieve.
Slimming World aims to help members understand the benefits being physically active brings and to break down personal barriers that may be stopping them from getting going. A lot of organisations could learn from their example.
By talking to their members and potential members, Slimming World discovered people wanted to get more active and wanted support to do that, with guidance that was clear and easy to follow, good fun, able to fit around even the busiest of lifestyles and,
crucially, inclusive – something everyone could take part in! So that’s exactly what we’ve created together. The Slimming World videos on their members’ website and app, are – like their programme – designed to be inclusive and appeal to everyone, no matter their age, ability or lifestyle.
They’re all filmed with two friendly and encouraging instructors, one seated and one standing, and there are five, 10, 15 and 30 minute workouts. The videos vary from dance and cardio to balance and flexibility and strength building, and from gentle,
getting-started options to more intense workouts.
This summer, Slimming World is giving access to one of the videos for free, allowing an even larger audience to rethink what exercise might be.
Learnings from online training:
Exercising at home enables people to feel safe and to rest/stop without judgment – allowing an individual’s confidence to grow at their own pace and to hopefully encourage them to one day feel comfortable and able to access other types of physical activity.
I believe leisure operators must now follow suit, offering a more positive, inclusive and holistic approach to physical activity. Simple changes, in and out of clubs, can make a big difference to those that struggle with low self-esteem and little physical ability and mobility. For example, group exercise classes must offer seated modifications; new-to-exercise customers need a clear, welcoming induction programme to help them feel confident in an unknown, alien space; clearly written group exercise class descriptions will also help, as well as the introduction of shorter sessions for those that struggle or are new to exercise. Simple changes could make the world of difference for this hard-to-reach group, helping them to reap untold benefits.