The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association is the fitness industry's only global trade association representing over 10,000 for profit health and fitness facilities and over 600 supplier companies in 75 countries.



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Health, Fitness, or Wellness?

At the most recent meeting of IHRSA’s board of directors in Boston, I and the other members of the board engaged in some meaningful and stimulating discussions about our industry at large, and about the diverse IHRSA community. Let me share some of what was said. 

As we generally do, we reviewed recent public-policy efforts, current advocacy initiatives, plans for promoting the benefits of regular exercise, and the role that clubs can play in that particular effort.

One thing we agreed upon was the notion that, although the terms “health,” “fitness,” and “wellness” are frequently used interchangeably—they’re not the same thing.

Having worked with Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper for many years, I can clearly recall a key point of virtually every presentation he gave: It was his position that the definition of “health” is simply the absence of disease. Therefore, being in “good health” doesn’t necessarily equate to being fit or to overall wellness.

Although it might seem contradictory, one can, technically, be healthy and still be unfit. Conversely, one can be “fit” and still be unhealthy.

Wellness, on the other hand, is often defined as the end result of a holistic, healthy-lifestyle program, one that encompasses nutrition, exercise, weight management, mental status, hydration, sleep, stress management, safety habits, faith or spirituality, and other components. One might say that wellness is the state of optimum mental and physical health and fitness.

The point is that, while these differences may seem obvious to us, individuals often come to us in pursuit of fitness—which they equate with looking better, increasing muscle definition, losing weight, or any number of other desired outcomes—without considering health or wellness at all.

As we help members achieve the results they seek, it’s easy for us to lose sight of a more important goal. How remarkable and rewarding would it be if we could get the 40–50 million American adults who are sedentary and don’t belong to our clubs to “just move”—so we could start them on the road to health, then fitness, and, finally, wellness?

The reality is that the vast majority of people views our clubs as places to “get in shape.” They may not realize we have the resources to help them achieve greater, grander objectives.

So, as we work to attract a broader spectrum of society to our clubs, perhaps we should all strive to meet members wherever they are on the wellness continuum. 

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