Turn on your television and there they are: the exercisers. Pick up a newspaper or magazine and you can read about “them” exercising—not to mention all the companies advertising fitness equipment. Get on the Internet or call a friend and you discuss exercise.With the massive media penetration and “top of mind awareness” fitness has achieved, it should come as a shock that in 10 years there has been virtually no growth in those of us actually exercising, rather than just talking about it.

A newly released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey shows that the level of physical activity over the last 10 years has not improved—only about one-fourth of U.S. adults exercise. In fact, most U.S. adults are not active enough to achieve any health benefits from their activity.

I find it ironic that these findings were released by CDC, which also brought us the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on physical fitness in 1996, and propelled into the national spotlight the hazards of inactivity. Around the same time, the American Heart Association announced it added inactivity to its list of major coronary risk factors. A lot of media attention focused on fitness in the ensuing years. So what’s not working?

The definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results. We’ve all heard that
saying, and we all nod sagely because it makes a lot of sense, but think it probably doesn’t apply to us. In the wake of so many industry successes, have we now become so reluctant to change that we’re impeding our own growth? It’s human nature to stick with what you know—especially if it has worked in the past.

We continue to do a great job convincing the average adult that our facilities are only for bodybuilders and personal trainers are only for the rich. We continue to depict slender young individuals in our literature to reinforce the perception that fitness is something you “look like” instead of something you feel. (So our average adult waits for a feeling of fear from a major health issue, such as a heart attack, or a feeling of misery from gaining a considerable amount of weight before being driven to take action.)

The vast majority of adults will never fit into this image of physical fitness regardless of how much they exercise, what they eat or how they modify their lifestyle. So why not try something new? How about creating a nonintimidating facility that eliminates perceived barriers to entry?

What if we run ads that show “real” people, not just beautiful young people? What if we introduce programs with a lot of variety and social support? How about providing less fit and moderately fit adults with a lot more exercise
options? Not everyone has the desire to progress to the higher intensity workouts that fitness staff may strive toward. What if staff members wear unrevealing workout clothes and say hello to members of all ages? Let’s see, and how about adding ramps to wide doorways, taking away some mirrors, starting a book club. . . .

Who knows—it may just work! It’s obvious from the CDC study that what we are currently doing is not.