A Voice for Global Health & Fitness Advocacy

Richard Beddie, CEO of Exercise New Zealand and vice chair of the Global Health & Fitness Alliance Advisory Council, takes his place as a representative on the IHRSA Board.

  • May 30, 2023

Richard Beddie, vice chair of the Global Health & Fitness Alliance (GHFA) Advisory Council, was named to the IHRSA Board of Directors to serve as the representative for the GHFA. As the current CEO of Exercise New Zealand, Richard joins representatives from the National Health & Fitness Alliance and Industry Partner Advisory Council.

A fitness professional since 1995, Richard is a former club owner who sold his last property in 2008. Since then, he’s dedicated his career to expanding the reach of the fitness industry in his home country of New Zealand and in various international organizations, such as the International Confederation of Exercise Professionals.

As a member of the inaugural GHFA, Richard will now lend his voice to the global fitness community on the IHRSA Board.

We recently caught up with Richard to get his views on the challenges ahead for the international health and fitness industry.

CBI: What do you see as big challenges ahead for the GHFA?

Richard Beddie: What was really useful for the GHFA in the last couple of years was the Deloitte report, Economic Health & Societal Well-being: Quantifying the Impact of the Global Health & Fitness Sector. As an industry, we may not be economically large, but we are important to the global economic impact because of the benefits of exercise.

The reality is that COVID showed that our biggest problem is that we are not recognized as part of the healthcare continuum. We were seen as a provider of recreational services and, in the worst case, treated the same as bars and restaurants. Moving forward, the GHFA needs to be clear that we need to invest to get positive outcomes for us globally.

CBI: Considering the differences among the nations you represent, how does the industry become a more active part of the healthcare continuum?

RB: For many years, the industry was predominantly driven by body transformation. There’s nothing wrong with that—I always say it still has its place—but now we need to show the health sector that we have a common standard.

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The health sector is possibly the most regulated industry globally, so how do we as an industry engage with another industry? We need to be able to prove that we have globally recognized standards, so people know that if you send someone to us, you can trust us.

CBI: That’s very hard to do on a global basis, isn’t it?

RB: Yes, and that’s why it needs to be done locally. If you say, “This is the new standard, everyone should follow it.” Then, you’re telling everyone how to run their business, and you’re going to get pushback. But there are really good examples of individual clubs or groups that have good relationships with the medical industry, whether it’s hospitals or even insurance companies.

Almost everywhere else, we engage with the government about how to reduce healthcare costs because it’s a public health system, and therefore the cost is paid by the taxpayer. That’s probably the biggest difference between the U.S. and most other countries. Who pays for healthcare in the U.S.? It’s insurers. And who pays for insurance? Mostly, it’s employers.

But no matter who you talk to, the solution is getting more people to be physically active. If we start saying, “Join a gym,” people will say, “You’re trying to sell me your product.” Our response is that we’re not trying to sell you our product, we’re giving you a solution to your problem, whether it be healthcare costs, insurance premiums, or a sick workforce. And we can help by giving people structured programs for physical activity. And where does that happen? Well, that happens mainly in gyms.

CBI: So we need to stress that a health club is where you get that structured environment and better compliance?

RB: Absolutely, and that becomes a sort of level-three discussion. We’ve agreed that physical activity is part of the solution to this problem; now we need to implement that in our local communities.

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What we want to do is change people’s behavior. There’s some really good evidence that if you engage in structured exercise rather than incidental physical activity, you can change people’s behavior. You can tell people to take the stairs or walk their dogs in the park more often—and there’s nothing wrong with that—but it doesn’t change people’s behavior.

What makes us unique is that we as an industry can help change people’s behavior. That’s what we add to the equation, which is unique compared even with a medical professional, who may know more about the human body than a personal trainer, but we as an industry fundamentally understand how we can help someone on their journey from being inactive to active.

CBI: Are you optimistic that we’re moving in the right direction?

RB: Absolutely, I am optimistic. When I think back to 10 and certainly 20 years ago, whenever I was interviewed by the media, the first thing I needed to do was convince them that exercise was good for us. When I talk to the media now, they know exercise is good for us, and that we shouldn’t underestimate the value of physical activity. We are constantly seeing that now in the mainstream media.

We did some research in New Zealand where we asked people, “Do you think you should exercise?” And 97% said yes.

When we asked the same question about smoking, 96% of people said you shouldn’t smoke. It’s interesting that more people think you should exercise than not smoke. So the consumer and the media get it. I think there is a huge opportunity to leverage that. If you say to a health minister, insurance CEO, or large employer that you can reduce their healthcare costs by 1% by having a gym program, that’s a powerful message.

Get Involved in IHRSA Advocacy

Advocacy is critical to promote standards, policies, and regulations that support the global industry's operations and needs. As the global health and fitness association, IHRSA:

  • provides education to increase understanding of the value and return on investment of health club-based physical activity,

  • communicates the vital role clubs play in fighting the obesity epidemic and other chronic illnesses,

  • publishes research that supports the global industry's efforts to increase physical activity, and more.

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IHRSA recently hosted a Fly-In & Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., to advocate for PHIT and the health and fitness industry.

Three ways you can get involved in IHRSA advocacy:

  1. Become an IHRSA Premium Member

  2. Create a National Alliance

  3. Educate Yourself

One of the best ways to support IHRSA’s advocacy efforts is to join as an IHRSA Premium member. Premium members receive the most benefits and contribute the highest percentage of their membership dues to advocacy and public affairs.

It’s the right option for members who care deeply about preventing harmful government regulation, communicating the industry’s value, and ensuring that the industry will never again endure unnecessary hardships. To learn more about Premium membership, check out ihrsa.org/membership.

The GHFA works in several countries worldwide to establish new associations and formal alliances. For more details, visit ghfalliance.org.

There are also tools to help create state-level organizations in the U.S. These include a toolkit, How to Run a Fitness Industry Alliance in Your State, and the State Fitness Alliance Playbook for Health, Wellness, and Fitness Leaders.

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