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IHRSA 's Profile

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association
Washington, DC/Boston
United States

About Me:

Tim Richards, IHRSA BloggerTom is the Senior Manager of Public Policy for IHRSA, a nonprofit trade/advocacy group for fitness centers.  As IHRSA’s Washington staff member, Tom coordinates IHRSA’s outreach to leading organizations and government agencies - such as HHS and the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity, the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease, Exercise is Medicine, the Campaign to End Obesity, the National Physical Activity Plan and others - to highlight the importance of physical activity to America’s health.  In 2009 and beyond, Tom looks forward to advancing IHRSA’s support for policies and programs that increase the number of physically active Americans.

Recent Posts by IHRSA

Making the Healthy Choice the Happy Choice

by IHRSA June 5, 2013

Our nation’s determined band of wellness revolutionaries has rallied around a wonderfully succinct and effective policy slogan: Make the Healthy Choice the Easy Choice.


In the context of promoting physical activity, the “easy choice” varies depending on the environment. At the workplace, for example, the “easy choice” might mean taking an authorized exercise break during the day, using a treadmill desk, or conducting walking meetings. At home, the “easy choice” could be a stroll along a well-lit and safe walking path leading to a marketplace.


As more and more policymakers consider whether their decisions make it easier or harder for Americans to make the “healthy choice,” the barriers to exercise will be chiseled down, and we will become a more active nation.


But I would like to add a parenthetical to strengthen the slogan.


Something like this: Make the Healthy Choice, the Easy (and Happy) Choice


In many cases, it’s not enough to create an “easy choice,” if the “easy choice” will not add happiness to the chooser’s life. For example, IHRSA (my employer) could install a 30-foot climbing wall inside my cubicle, but as someone whose blood pressure increases rapidly the further my shoes get from the ground, I would never climb the wall because climbing it would detract mightily from my happiness.  IHRSA couldn’t make it any easier, but I still wouldn’t do it.


Now, of course, “happiness” is a complex emotion, and there may be as many forms of happiness are there are people on the planet (e.g. here are plenty of happy things related to physical activity), but there are some basic human tendencies to consider when crafting “the easy (and happy) choice.”


1. Sometimes we want to go where everybody knows our name.

The secret weapon of many successful health clubs is the friendly front-desk person who seems genuinely pleased to see you and greets you by name. It’s nice to feel welcomed and valued. That quick interaction makes us feel happy and more likely to seek out a similar interaction in the future.


2.  Exercise is easier with a buddy or two (or ten…)

A long, lonesome walk can be inspiring, but it can also just be long and lonesome. On the other hand, a long talk with a buddy on a walking trail can fly right by, and satisfy a common need for social engagement (not just the kind over a network) and physical activity. For many people, easy choices are made easier when buddies are involved.  

3. Aesthetics matter

A treadmill desk in a dank office with peeling paint is a crummy option. Sure, it might provide easy access for time-saving physical activity, but it’s a downer, and not likely to put on many miles. A climate-controlled office, however, full of fun pictures, perhaps of employees or the local sports heroes, can be a happy place, and happy places compel return visits.


What are some other ways we can inject more happiness into the easy choices?

Health Clubs Filling Void Left By Cuts to Recess/PE

by IHRSA January 24, 2013

As a trade association for fitness centers, IHRSA is responsible for creating and fostering an industry marketplace for creative programming. A particularly robust segment of that marketplace relates to youth programming in health clubs. Ideas are swirling about engagement, program design, and how to collaborate with communities to fill gaps left by budget cuts to recess and physical education.

To the surprise of policymakers, the health club market is already serving millions of American children.

In fact, IHRSA surveys indicate:

  • 26 percent of commercial health clubs offer youth-specific programming
  • 20 percent of commercial health clubs offer a kids-only section
  • Commercial health clubs serve more than 5.7 million members under the age of 18, including 2.3 million between 6 and 12 years old, and 3.4 million between 13 and 17
  • The number of children using commercial health clubs has increased by 209 percent since 1990

IHRSA recently profiled several clubs offering youth programming. One club, for example, reported great success and engagement with age-appropriate versions of historically adult programs, such as yoga, Zumba, boxing, mixed martial arts, and triathlon clinics. Other notable programs include physical education classes, after school “active” care, climbing wall sessions, suspension training, tumbling classes, group cycling, and even cooking classes.

In earlier posts, we’ve noted that health clubs provide a safe location, supportive environment, and a variety of options for meaningful physical activity, but behavior research points to additional benefits for children.  

For example, family health club memberships can positively influence and reinforce healthy behaviors of both children and adults. As one IHRSA member recently noted, “In many communities, health clubs are one of the few places where families can exercise: parents can work out, while their children are having fun and getting healthy. We make it easy for them.” This family dynamic is particularly important for youth fitness in light of recent research findings that suggest that children are influenced by their parents’ activity levels.

Of course, any discussion about improving population health must consider the cost of implementation. Certainly, membership fees are a factor in determining the overall impact of the fitness industry to improve the fitness levels of American youth, but to a much lesser degree than commonly assumed.  Health clubs may not be the right option for every American, but we believe that affordable choices exist for the great majority of American families. Often, affordability is simply a matter of budgetary priorities and Americans have an unfortunate history of assigning a low value to physical activity. When compared with the monthly cost of premium cable TV, cell phone service, junk food, video games, or even coffee, a health club membership can be a very accessible option.

What are some youth programs that could be implemented in a fitness center?

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Employee Wellness Programs Are a Major Policy Success

by IHRSA November 28, 2012

One of the nation's greatest public health policy successes of the past ten years may be the widespread implementation of corporate wellness policies.

In fact, a recent notice from the Federal government states, "The Departments believe that appropriately designed wellness programs have the potential to contribute importantly to promoting health and preventing disease." In this case, "the Departments" refer to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the US Department of Labor, and the US Department of the Treasury.

The same notice reports that "wellness programs have become common among employers in the United States...[and] overall, employers largely report that workplace wellness programs are delivering on their intended benefit of improving health and reducing costs."

So, how are corporate wellness programs promoting physical activity?

According to a recent survey by Kaiser/HRET, 30% of all firms surveyed offer gym memberships or provide an onsite fitness facility. This includes 64% of large employers.

The importance of promoting physical activity as a core component of a corporate wellness program was underscored recently by a study published in the November 2012 issue of Health Affairs, which found that employer health care costs are 15.3% higher for physically inactive employees than active employees.

But persuading employees to adopt healthier behaviors, such as regular physical activity, can be exceedinly challenging and simply offering gym memberships or building an onsite fitness center is not likely to convert many employees from inactive to active.

"The key to success," says Bryan O'Rourke, IHRSA member and CEO of Integerus, "is a combination of facility design, and more importantly, an organizational commitment to a comprehensive wellness program."

And that commitment, according to fitness industry experts, must significantly impact the corporate culture.

"The percentage of participation of the workforce that participates in a wellness program or company-built fitness facility is really dependent on the company culture," notes Vaughn Marxhausen, Area General Manager for Houstonian Lite. "This culture starts at the top and filters down. It is usually difficult to increase participation or grow a program, if the culture of wellness is not present." I highly recommend his "The 3 Ps of Participation" strategy.

In this excellent video, Christine Thalwitz, Director of Communications & Research at ACAC Fitness & Wellness Centers, discusses specific strategies for creating a culture of wellness. The video is a must-see for any fitness company interested in corporate wellness.

From a corporate policy perspective, the National Coalition for Promoting Physical Activity's CEO Pledge, which not only confirms a CEO's commitment to providing a supportive environment for employee physical activity, but also asserts the CEO's own intent to be physically active, may also be one of the most meaningful and effective strategies for creating a corporate culture of wellness.

"With most working adults spending roughly half their waking hours on the job on the days that they work, it is incumbent upon business and industry leaders to become part of the solution," says IHRSA President/CEO and CEO Pledge signer, Joe Moore. "By promoting physical activity and healthy lifestyles within the workplace, CEOs help their company's bottom line, but they also help society."

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