Fit Body, Fit Planet
Icons & Innovators: Group fitness innovators Phillip and Jackie Mills want to save the planet, one healthy body at a time.
Fitness professionals should be at the forefront of the campaign for a healthy planet, say group exercise pioneers Phillip Mills and Jackie Mills, MD, who are on a mission to increase awareness about the link between fitness and eco-health. Authors of the book Fighting Globesity: A Practical Guide to Personal Health and Sustainability (Random House 2007), the Millses have decided to combine their fervor for ecological health with their many years of innovation in the fitness industry.
Phillip is co-founder of Les Mills International Ltd., the New Zealand– based fitness club business that has 45,000 members in New Zealand and delivers standardized, prechoreographed group fitness programs to 12,000 clubs around the world. The company, which also provides group fitness management and marketing programs, as well as continuing education to over 70,000 teachers, reaches an estimated 5 million participants. The Les Mills BodyPump™ program is the biggest branded exercise program in the world. Les Mills clubs in New Zealand offer some of the largest group fitness classes in the world, with as many as 200 participants.
“Our business model of delivering standardized programs began when we were facing the challenge of staffing our clubs, and we had some instructors who were rock stars who could fill classes, and a lot who could not. The simple business principle of quality assurance that started in one of our clubs 30 years ago has now grown to the point where we spend $100 million a year creating and distributing programs,” says Phillip.
Phillip and his wife, Jackie, met when she was an aerobics trainer. She has since become a general medical practitioner and obstetrician, as well as a creative director and program director for the Les Mills program BodyBalance™ (known as BodyFlow™ in the United States). The passion for fitness and holistic health that brought them together has only gotten stronger, creating the foundation for their joint efforts in eco-fitness education. The couple was moved to explore global environmental health issues out of concern for their children and grandchildren, and through their experience of Phillip’s mother’s death from melanoma. New Zealand and Australia have some of the highest melanoma rates in the world. The disease is believed to be linked to ozone depletion.
“We believe the biggest problem facing the world today is ecological sustainability, and a big part of that is what we refer to as ‘globesity,’ which is not just physical obesity, but the phenomenon of overconsumption of resources and lack of sustainability on all levels,” says Phillip. “As professionals in the fitness industry, we should be leading the way in educating our clients that fitness is a sustainability issue. We need to help them make the connection between how they take care of themselves and how they care for the planet.”
The Millses believe that most fitness and wellness professionals don’t realize how influential they can be when it comes to global preservation. “Our role is much bigger than many of us realize,” Phillip says. “Improving people’s health is one of the biggest contributions that can be made to greening the planet. It means reducing healthcare costs, which is one of the largest areas of waste in the global economy today. Increasing personal responsibility for health makes us more sustainable as people—more fit to sustain ourselves and the planet.
Fitness professionals have the opportunity to influence a large and often affluent part of the world’s population,” notes Phillip.
“We can educate people about the health and sustainability benefits of organic foods, or how riding a bike instead of driving a car can help the planet as well their fitness level,” says Jackie. Fitness professionals can also create more green awareness where they work, encouraging activities such as turning down air conditioning, changing light bulbs and replacing showerheads.
“It’s good for business, too,” notes Phillip. “We’ve saved thousands of dollars in our clubs with changes like these—the solutions are often so simple and related to just reducing waste. We all make hundreds of choices a day that affect the planet, and it’s relatively easy and enjoyable to make the right choices. Every one of us has to ‘green our mind’ and become an advocate. “I think it’s part of the natural evolution of our industry. We have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to help change the world.”
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