Fighting for the Fitness Industry—and the Public Good

Erik Lindseth, senior vice president and general counsel of Life Time and National Health & Fitness Alliance Advisory Council member, joins the IHRSA Board as a representative.

  • March 07, 2023

In January, Erik Lindseth, senior vice president and general counsel of Life Time, was appointed to the IHRSA Board of Directors to serve as the representative for the National Health & Fitness Alliance. Erik is a voice for the advocacy group in driving the strategic direction of U.S. advocacy for IHRSA and the wider industry.

A passionate advocate for the industry, Erik joined Life Time in 2006, becoming General Counsel of the company in 2010. Based in Chanhassen, MN, Life Time was founded in 1992 by Bahram Akradi and currently operates more than 160 luxury athletic country clubs in the U.S. and Canada.

CBI recently caught up with Erik shortly after he joined the Board to find out where he thinks the industry is headed and how advocacy impacts the trajectory.

CBI: How do you see your presence on the IHRSA Board impacting the National Health & Fitness Alliance and IHRSA's all-around advocacy efforts?

Erik Lindseth: The IHRSA Board has numerous priorities, including designing and running a trade show, and providing training and educational materials, but I think legislative advocacy should be the most important organizational objective. The hiring of Liz Clark, who is a D.C.-based CEO, the creation of the National Health & Fitness Alliance, and the appointment of a representative to the Board proves that it’s a priority for IHRSA leadership.

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CBI: We have a new Congress here in the U.S. What do you see as the immediate objectives?

EL: We need to reintroduce the PHIT Act and find lead sponsors and co-sponsors in both the House and the Senate. We'd also like to engage with members of Congress who are part of the Physical Activity Caucus. We need to push for a broadening of that caucus to include fitness, sports, and wellness. We have two D.C. fly-ins this year and we've also got Team 435, a strong initiative that’s designed to pair club operators and others in the industry throughout the United States with their members of Congress.

The PHIT (Personal Health Investment Today) Act would allow individuals to use up to $1,000 from flexible spending accounts (FSAs) or health savings accounts (HSAs) to pay for qualified sports and fitness expenses per year. Importantly, these are funds that already exist and are not being used. According to a Monday survey, U.S. workers forfeit a total of about $3 billion a year in unused FSA funds. In 2018, IHRSA successfully passed the legislation in the House of Representatives. Unfortunately, the PHIT Act didn’t make it to the Senate due to procedural and timing issues. IHRSA plans to get the bill reintroduced in Congress this year.

CBI: What’s your message to policymakers?

EL: We must shift resources to invest in prevention and incentivize people to live a healthy life, even if those benefits are seen later down the line.

“We need to work hard at articulating the value of the health and fitness industry in helping prevent people from becoming sick in the first place.”

Physical activity and great nutrition reduce the risk of chronic disease. It improves cardiovascular health, makes you more resilient, helps you live longer, boosts your mood. It keeps your blood sugar in check, helps your brain function better. It relieves stress and reduces sick days—the list is almost endless of positive things that our industry brings to bear across this country.

There is a strong case to make that our industry does more to support public health than almost every other industry. Legislators ought to promote and prioritize the health, fitness, and wellness of U.S. citizens. There are good ways to do that, and PHIT is one of them. It's a smart piece of legislation because it's using dollars that people have already saved. It's their own money.

CBI: As somebody who stepped forward to volunteer for this role in fighting for the industry, tell me what these issues mean to you?

EL: Before I joined Life Time, I worked for the Minnesota Attorney General's office as a civil enforcement lawyer. One thing that was very important to me when I was considering my next step was that I wanted to work for a company with a positive social purpose and a mission. Life Time's core mission is to help people live healthy, happy lives. I think this idea of helping people take positive steps today to maintain good health for the long term is something the entire industry shares.

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There are many people who work in the health and fitness industry who understand the value of physical activity, excellent nutrition, good community and personal relationships, and strong emotional and mental health. All of these things enhance a person's quality of life in a way that so many other industries simply do not.

CBI: Are you optimistic that IHRSA and the National Health & Fitness Alliance can achieve some of these objectives?

EL: I think Liz Clark and her team are working hard to build relationships across the industry. She's put together a Strategic Advisory Council with industry leaders to develop initiatives to better position ourselves, not only in the political arena, but also from a public relations standpoint. We need to build relationships with other industries like the medical profession and the health insurance industry, as well as other institutions that may not directly be involved in operating a health and fitness club.

Our industry is large, and it's probably going to get a lot larger. If you view our industry as broadly committed to helping people live a healthy, high-quality life, we've got a lot of natural allies that we could tap. We're at an important inflection point. When we look out on the horizon, there are some great opportunities before us.

For more on the National Health & Fitness Alliance, visit its website.