How Air Quality Can Optimize the “Health” in Health Clubs

Crushing COVID-19 and other illnesses through a better “airenvironment.”

For the better part of two years, club operators have worked hard to raise their safety games through a variety of new sanitizing protocols. From free-standing wipe stations and ensuring that members wipe down machines after each use, to WiFi-enabled hand sanitizers and constant cleaning turnover by the staff, the commitment to a scrupulously clean environment is made clear to your members on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

But what about what members can’t see? The fact is that air quality is every bit as important in terms of safety as any other gauge of club cleanliness.

“Air quality can be considered a ‘third dimension’ of health and wellness,” notes Brad Schupp, founder of SPORTSMITH. “Where you can see the food you eat and know its nutritional value, or count the calories you burn at the gym, you can’t necessarily visualize the components related to the quality of the air you breathe.”

And those qualities are critical when it comes to indoor versus outdoor air quality. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) findings indicate that indoor levels of pollutants can be two to five times higher than levels found outdoors, with extreme cases yielding levels of pollutants more than 100 times higher. With most Americans spending 90% of their time inside, indoor air pollution is consistently ranked by the EPA as among the top five environmental risks to the public.

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While pollution certainly impacts indoor air quality, we know that COVID-19—and other illnesses—can be especially transmissive in an enclosed environment. Some of the basic facts about COVID-19 include that the virus is spread “through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks,” and “between people who are in close contact with one another (within about six feet).” There is also evidence that it can be spread through airborne transmission when even smaller droplets linger in the air for long periods and travel further distances.

Think of it this way: Poor air quality is like topsoil to viruses and bacteria; they thrive in it. It enables them to linger longer in the air, increasing the health risk of transmission.

On the other hand, adds Schupp, “we know that good indoor air quality is strongly connected to health and well-being. Breathable air that is free of health-threatening airborne diseases and pollutants leads to a higher quality of life. Breathing in clean air has many benefits, including healthier lungs, decreased asthma and allergy symptoms, improved digestion, better mood and sleep patterns, reduced chance of lung, heart, and arterial diseases, and much more.”

Understanding Your IAQ

Among the first steps to creating an environment free of pollutants—and one that proactively protects members against potential illness—is understanding your Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), which, notes the EPA, “refers to the air quality within and around buildings and structures, especially as it relates to the health and comfort of building occupants.”

An IAQ assessment covers a variety of conditions related to the air in your facility, including Air Quality Index, a real-time score based on your environment; optimal temperatures; levels of Particulate Matter (e.g., dust, fungi, and bacteria); levels of dangerous gases present, such as formaldehyde; humidity; carbon dioxide; toxic compounds; and even regular differences in barometric pressure, which can increase the flow of infectious particles.

“Assessing your facility’s IAQ and establishing a baseline is essential to improving its air quality,” states Schupp. “Once you analyze the air you, your staff, and members are breathing, the path to clean, healthy air becomes clear. Just as most health clubs assess a new member’s health and understand their goals, assessing your IAQ health, and understanding the tools required to meet your goals, is critical. A health club should begin with a healthy environment.”

The Solution to Indoor Pollution

In order to help take the complexity out of IAQ assessment and manage air quality, SPORTSMITH has partnered with AirThinx, an automated IAQ management system. AirThinx provides continuous, precise IAQ monitoring at room level for any infrastructure. Launched in 2018—the same year the company won Top Product of the Year Award from the Environmental Leader and Energy Manager Today Awards—AirThinx features the first technology that measures nine key IAQ parameters in real-time. A user-friendly app, which stores a facility’s air-quality data in the cloud, makes qualitative information easily accessible for speedy, informed decision-making.

In short, says Schupp, AirThinx automates management of your facility IAQ to the highest global quality standards, so you don’t have to.

“Here’s how it works,” Schupp explains. “Let’s say an empty GroupX or spin studio’s IAQ status is ‘good’ prior to class. Then that enclosed room fills up with a dozen or more class participants. Through all the huffing, puffing, and sweating, the temperature is up, carbon dioxide is increased, and there’s Particulate Matter and more in the air—which, taken together, is like a bullet train for viruses and bacteria. AirThinx detects those heightened levels of pollutants and activates the HVAC fan to ventilate the room with fresh air, adjusts the thermostat, communicates with humidifiers, air purifiers, and air-treatment devices in an automated concert that quickly brings the room back to safer, healthier air quality.”

Getting a handle on your IAQ is certainly a benefit to anyone who steps into your club. But, adds Schupp, it’s also a powerful marketing tool. If members and prospects know you’ve taken the extra step of verifying your club’s air quality, they feel that much safer, and safety—and its resulting peace of mind—is a critical part of what members are seeking today.

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In addition, improving your club’s air quality may help you market to those with underlying conditions, whose need for exercise has been a constant mantra in the club industry and is even more important today, as the National Institute of Health reports that nearly two-thirds of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S. could be attributed to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and heart failure.

“It takes more than the latest equipment, GroupX innovation, or discounts to appeal to prospects with underlying conditions who have palpable fears of enclosed spaces. It takes verification that your facility’s environment meets global health standards, which minimizes the risk of hospitalization,” adds Schupp. “Imagine the unique value proposition and competitive differentiator offered by a club that proactively works to ensure that the very air members breathe is free of bacteria and germs. And that message can be essential to attracting new members of every type and growing your business. As we said earlier, on average we spend 90% of our time indoors, taking 22,000 breaths a day. Why not make each one a healthy one, especially at the gym? Better air, better life.

“With the onset of COVID-19, a monumental paradigm shift opportunity has been presented to the fitness industry,” he continues. “As NIH research suggests, routine exercise can mitigate key underlying conditions and reduce hospitalizations by as much as 64%. Positioning our industry as a ‘silver bullet’ in giving COVID-19 nowhere to hide, helps firmly establish it as not only essential, but as the driving force toward a healthier future.”

To learn more about AirThinx IAQ or for a complimentary demo, check out their website.


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Jon Feld

Jon Feld is a contributor to Club Business International.