Take a moment to ponder a few questions.

When was the last time you felt as though you were “playing” when you were on a treadmill or exercising in the gym? Do you recall using resistance bands in your physical education (PE) classes? Did you ever feel that PE classes catered specifically to athletes? Do selectorized or variable-resistance machines enhance fitness for daily living? Are the same exercise programs recommended for exercise, fitness and health? Are your favorite recreational activities (e.g., golfing, Frisbee®, in-line skating) considered play, sport or exercise? Do you think that “getting fit” is possible only within the four walls of a facility?

If you take a long look at these questions and allow yourself the latitude to see how fitness and health can “fit” into a variety of arenas and environments, you might discover, as we did, that there is a place and a need for a “lifestyle enhancement” model that goes beyond the facility and discovers the “whole” person. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Physical Activity and Health, more than 60% of American adults are not physically active on a regular basis, and 25% engage in no physical activity in their leisure time (Franklin 2001). According to Hedley et al. (2004), 65.7% of adults were either obese or overweight in 2001–2002. Among young people aged 6–19, 31.5% were at risk for being overweight and 16.5% were overweight. Health experts suggest that if today’s youth keep “supersizing their meals while downsizing their physical activity,” they risk becoming the first generation of Americans to live shorter lives than their parents, owing to obesity-related heart disease and diabetes (Weir 2004).

Despite these statistics, a recent nationwide survey on attitudes toward exercise performed by the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA 2004) found that 70% of respondents were completely or somewhat satisfied with their physical health. The study’s research director wondered whether Americans who walk around and see overweight, inactive people simply consider them the “norm.” Let’s face it, the traditional model for getting people more physically active (regimented exercise routines) has been only marginally effective. According to Gaesser (1996), “Going for the burn in the ’80s seems to have done little more than produce a lot of exercise burnouts in the ’90s.” We have to face the reality that as participation in health clubs has risen in the last 10 years so has the incidence of obesity. It’s time to start asking ourselves whether there is something we can do differently. Do we need a paradigm shift from how we currently operate, since our altruistic goal is to enhance lifestyles?

Like many of you, we have worked in a variety of jobs in the health and fitness industry: physical educator in a public school district; fitness programmer in a recreation facility and community center; health educator; personal trainer; group exercise leader; fitness programmer in a private club; and exercise specialist. Both of us finally settled firmly into higher education as faculty members in the department of kinesiology at Indiana University, Bloomington, where we develop curricula and teach undergraduate classes. We believe our life and work experiences have given us the insight and impetus to pursue what has become our personal quest: to professionalize fitness through collaborative initiatives with different organizations that have a similar mission of enhancing lifestyles. In our commitment to follow this mission we are constantly inspired by the “living well” philosophy we see emblazoned in the logo of Indiana’s School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.

The Missing Link?

A combination of factors gave us the idea to create a new undergraduate degree called “fitness specialist,” now offered at Indiana University. In the infancy stage of developing the curriculum, it became quite apparent that a very important missing link was a course that would first and foremost prepare our students to understand a person as a whole being before studying the person’s physical aspects. As we continued to construct the curriculum, a new class called “Living Well” was created and became the entry-level course into the degree process. This course provides foundation material we felt students needed to learn and understand before we asked them to apply fitness concepts. The class’s objective is to further students’ understanding of how to help people make better choices and live healthier lives.

Fitness is not a panacea. The process of developing and sustaining a healthy lifestyle is as complex as people themselves are. Humans are synergistic beings. We are not compartmentalized into units and segments; instead we function optimally when all our parts are integrated and working in collaboration. Have we as an industry put too much emphasis on working the parts before considering the whole person?

When we step outside our fitness facilities and training studios, who and what else may assist us in the important work of helping people live holistically? How can our communities become active partners? Where might the medical field fit in? Is there a connection between public-health promotion and fitness initiatives? Can fitness fit into schools in a better way that makes a bigger impact and touches the whole child rather than forcing the child to fit into sport? Is it possible for the industry to accept a new vision that merges health, wellness, medicine and fitness into one integrated continuum resulting in lifestyle enhancement? There are so many important questions to which we must seek answers.

Traditional Wellness Model

Open most fitness or health texts and you will probably find a popular version of a wellness model that depicts wellness in segments, as shown in Figure 1. Commonly diagrammed in a circle, the model shows spiritual, physical, occupational, emotional, environmental, social and intellectual components. Each segment has a specific place; there is no overlap, transition or integration. Though connected, the pieces are shown as separate entities with equal importance, and together they create a perfect circle. However, people are not this neatly packaged. Not everything in our lives fits into the circle as shown in Figure 1. Should the individual segments have equal value, equal importance and equal priority, as the model suggests?

Lifestyle Enhancement Model

In our “Lifestyle Enhancement Model” (Figure 2), we used an integrated wellness approach that displays the transition to fitness and the many options for achieving it. In this model, being healthy and well is not a static entity, nor does any dimension of a person’s life function in isolation. Instead the model depicts a process that results in moving both forward and backward throughout life. It portrays wellness from an integrated perspective and opens the possibility that each component may in some manner influence others. We believe that lifestyle behaviors are the most important and modifiable factors influencing health, wellness and fitness.

Our model also stresses collaboration between programs and integration of services. The inside of the continuum contains the many components that affect and/or are a direct result of fitness: informal play, sports, intentional exercise, mind-body alternatives, recess, leisure activities and recreational pursuits. In the background lie the vehicles people use to become more fit, well, healthy or physically active: community, school, home, individual, environment and allied health.

Together, the inside components and the vehicles are meant to form connections that will enhance a person’s lifestyle in a variety of ways. These connections require collaboration and integration of several resources and the expertise of others who may be outside the walls of a fitness facility or a training studio.

We believe the time is right for creating partnerships with our communities and schools to provide valuable opportunities for physical activity and fitness. In the next sections, suggestions are provided to show how this model might allow fitness professionals to work in concert with outside sources to enhance lifestyles. Also included are examples from organizations and businesses that are already moving in this direction.

Partnering: Make the Connection

Our thought process in designing the Lifestyle Enhancement Model led us to find, not only the missing link in our curriculum, but also a guidepost that could potentially help fitness professionals make a bigger impact on obesity and inactivity. Traditionally, in fitness, the only programs we seem to consider are those within our facility walls. What if the foundation were to grow? Could we form new relationships and stronger connections to effect a larger impact on a greater number of lives and do a better job while we were at it? Here are some ideas.

Physical Education and Fitness
  • School gyms can be used before, during and after classes for staff, students and community fitness programs offered either by a parks and recreation department and/or by independent contractors of fitness services.
  • Schools can be encouraged to use fitness and health-enhancing equipment. Instead of rolling out the dodge ball, PE teachers can roll out stability balls and use strength and conditioning bands to work on total-body strengthening activities.
  • After-school programming can include popular student activities such as hip-hop or break dance classes, indoor rock climbing, Ultimate Frisbee games, yoga, in-line skating, juggling or other forms of innovative movement experiences that provide fitness and fun.
  • Pedometers can be used to show teachers and students how much (or how little) they are moving each day in relation to a recommended standard number of steps that should be taken to achieve minimum activity levels.
  • Incentive programs can be developed for students and staff to encourage and motivate movement.

Example: The President’s Challenge program recently added a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award that recognizes children and youth for regular physical activity. Students who engage in at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day or complete 11,000 steps on the pedometer 5 days per week for 6 weeks receive a presidential emblem and a certificate signed by the president. For more information go to www.fitness.gov/challenge.

This program is in addition to what many of us remember as the President’s Physical Fitness Award, which included the arm hang, chin-up and other exercises we all dreaded doing!

Fitness and Home
  • Personal trainers can give clients information to share with their families about organized walks or hikes.
  • Families can be encouraged to plan their vacations around favorite physical activities like skiing, biking or rafting.
  • Gardening is coming back as a fitness activity. Many used to believe that gardening was not good exercise because you did not get your heart rate up while doing it. Now gardening is seen as a productive form of exercise.

Example: Check out www.gardenfitness.com and you will see a whole new attitude about fitness and exercise. The creators of this website believe that “instead of thinking of exercise and fitness as something separate, we want to show people how to incorporate it into every part of their lives.”

Fitness and Community

Your clients or members can take part in a local race. Help them find a cause and form a team.

  • YMCAs and community centers can provide space for fitness, mind-body and physical activity classes.
  • Many senior centers and new apartment complexes are now incorporating fitness facilities into their planning process. Bingo rooms are being replaced with exercise equipment. Developers of high-rise apartments and condominiums are seeing fitness centers in their buildings as a must.

Examples: According to Peggy Buchanan, MA, 2002 IDEA Program Director of the Year and director of fitness at Vista del Monte Fitness & Aquatic Center, part of a retirement community in Santa Barbara, California, “Fitness isn’t a place; it’s a lifestyle. It’s much easier to introduce a new way of life to people where they actually live than asking them to leave their comfort zone to adopt a new habit.”

Kim Maxwell in Minneapolis recently launched the Women’s Running Network LLC, which focuses on unmotivated, intimidated women who want to start a walking or running program. The program is 8 weeks long and prepares participants to enter and participate in a 5K local run/walk race. Maxwell holds workshops all over the Minneapolis area. She travels to meet participants in their neighborhoods instead of asking them to come to a facility.

A program called Active Living Every Day was recently developed by Human Kinetics and The Cooper Institute to bring physical activity and fitness out of the health club and into the community. The program also focuses on the stages of change and helps identify where people are in the process of beginning or maintaining an exercise program. Participants in Active Living Every Day meet once a week to reinforce the importance of physical activity and wellness in their daily lives. No exercise is involved; the purpose is simply to provide a support group for active living. Meetings can be offered in churches, community buildings or other places and are designed for the new participant who does not want to go to a fitness facility.

“What makes Active Living Every Day unique is that it goes beyond telling people how to exercise; it addresses the root causes of physical inactivity,” says the program’s director Michele Guerra, MS, CHES, of Human Kinetics. “By teaching people behavior change skills, such as how to overcome barriers to physical activity, manage time, set goals and deal with lapses, Active Living Every Day empowers people to make significant and lasting changes in their lives.”

Fitness, Higher Education and Medicine

Fitness professionals can become involved with the higher-education and medical fields in a number of ways:

  • Share your leadership skills with your local higher-education entities and encourage application-based curricula.
  • Contact your local physician’s office and inquire about getting referrals to your program.
  • Offer continuing education workshops on campus sites and give continuing education credit so that nurses and other allied health professionals can learn more about fitness.
  • Advocate for higher-education programs that prepare professionals for the Lifestyle Enhancement Model.
  • If you are in the higher-education arena already, advocate for cross-referencing of classes in health education and recreation as well as exercise science.

Example: Mary Sanders, PhD, adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), feels that UNR has embraced the Institute of Medicine’s vision for an integrated approach to health care. The university’s new School of Public Health is developing curricula that will prepare both bachelor’s and master’s students to function as members of a primary preventive healthcare team. “Collaboration between healthcare businesses and education represents the new face of public health,” says Sanders. “Fitness professionals can join the team by progressing current skills through advanced education and practical field experience under the supervision of qualified healthcare professionals.”

In addition, many hospitals and physical therapy businesses are adding fitness centers to their operations in order to mainstream their clients into fitness and keep them healthy.

Insurance companies often limit the number of visits patients can make to physical therapy, thus encouraging collaboration between allied health providers and fitness professionals, as clients make the transition from therapy to postrehab.

Example: The Medical Fitness Association (MFA) has arisen from this type of collaboration. “MFA facilities partner with physicians, clinicians, exercise physiologists, rehab specialists and others to provide a variety of programs for the communities they serve,” says Cary Wing, the MFA’s executive director. “There may be no transformation within the health and fitness industry that is more significant than the growth and success of medical fitness centers. These centers bring together clinical and fitness/wellness programs and services in an environment that is typically shared by patients and members. In addition to treating disease, illness and injury, the healthcare provider’s scope of responsibility now extends to include early detection and prevention. The healthcare profession is embracing its role as a provider of programs and facilities that support medically supervised physical activity and health education.”

Teamwork Is Key

Without serious and creative collaboration, fitness professionals have an uphill climb in combating the inactivity and obesity epidemic. According to Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, “Creativity involves the ability to synthesize. It is a matter of sifting through data, perceptions and materials to come up with combinations that are new and useful.” Working as separate entities, we cannot solve these problems. Collaboratively, we will create strong connections that can impact many. Isn’t this truly what the Inspire the World to Fitness® mission is about? Let’s be proactive and work together for prevention rather than react and settle for rehabilitation. We believe that embracing and encouraging a lifestyle enhancement model is a good first step. Our final analysis tells us that we need to try something new and all-encompassing to make a difference. Let’s step out of our fitness boxes and see what we can do!

Figure 1. Traditional Wellness Model



Figure 2. lifestyle enhancement Model

CommunitySchoolHomeIntentional ExerciseRecessPlayLeisure

ActivitiesMind-Body AlternativesSportsRecreational PursuitsIndividualEnvironmentAllied Health

Becoming Part of the Lifestyle Enhancement Model

What can you do to broaden your approach to fitness and

encourage outside collaborative efforts? These ideas are not about a new program, a new move or a new piece of equipment. They are about making a difference through enhancing lifestyles.

  • Be creative. Contact your local school system and see how you can become involved in the physical education curriculum. Can you teach a group exercise class or demonstrate the use of resistance bands or medicine balls? Can you contract out to lead an after-school group exercise class (e.g., step, toning) for faculty, staff or students?
  • Share your knowledge. Offer to be an expert guest speaker on a health or fitness topic. Use your enthusiasm to spread the word, give ideas and encourage others to be physically active both outside and inside your facility.
  • Form professional relationships to generate referrals from local physicians and physical therapists.
  • Contact local community centers and youth or senior facilities to see if you can create a class or workshop for young people or the elderly.
  • Be a part of advocacy organizations promoting physical activity in the community.
  • Lobby for that walking trail or bike lane to be built!
  • Be a fitness resource for schools, community centers, physicians’ offices and local organizations supporting physical activity.
  • Offer your expertise as an exercise leader; perform fitness assessments and interpret the data.
  • Become certified as a health and wellness coach.
    Help Us
    Spread the Word!

    What have you done in your community to help motivate people to move? Do you have ideas—or have you created opportunities—for collaboration? We want to share your best practices with others in the field. Drop us a line and we will help spread the word. Contact us at [email protected] and [email protected]