|Design for Alternative Medicine
Offering Complementary and Alternative Medical Services to the New
Health Club Consumer Can Give Your Club a Competitive Advantage
By Donald DeMars
With the vast baby boomer generation poised to be leading
consumers for fitness facilities, understanding this generation and
its needs has never been so important. Adding services to your
facility that will directly appeal to this market can give you a
distinct advantage in attracting and retaining these potential
The Changing Fitness Business
In the 1950's, involvement in health clubs was epitomized by the
Muscle Beach or Charles Atlas "all or nothing" phenomena. In the
1960's, there was a focus on youth, with the emergence of the
President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and the
influence of Jack LaLane. The "self-actualization" '70's saw the
baby boomers entering the workforce, and both Richard
Simmons and aerobic exercise. In the 1980's, corporate fitness
programs and medically based fitness/wellness centers
appeared, and exercise science validated the efficacy of
anaerobic and aerobic exercise. In the 1990's, fitness became
synonymous with wellness and was acknowledged as an
important aspect of being healthy. Fitness was determined to be
essential for youth, the middle aged and seniors, and could be
achieved through a variety of activities, such as walking, cycling
and rock climbing, and by focusing on nutrition, smoking
cessation, cholesterol levels, etc.
The New Consumer
The evolution of the health club business has been driven by the
largest generation in American history. Born between 1946 and
1964, the 76 million Americans who comprise the baby boomer
generation have changed almost every industry they've
encountered. In the same way that they have transformed the
education, retail, housing and financial services industries, these
consumers are increasingly taking things into their own hands as
they age and face quality-of-life issues and their own mortality.
For healthcare and for the health club industry, meeting the needs
of this new groundswell of consumers is imperative for survival.
Fueled by the abundance of health information on the Internet,
regulatory changes from the balanced budget amendment, the
rising popularity of nontraditional care, and frustration over how
consumers and their families feel they have been mistreated by
the healthcare system, many changes are underway, not only in
healthcare, but in the health club industry as well. Those
businesses that adjust and provide new products and services to
these consumers will survive, and those that don't, probably will
Reaching the New Consumer
One sign of the presence of these baby boomer consumers is the
rise in the average age of health club consumers over the past
two decades. Although different types of clubs cater to different
age groups by the nature of their programming and their
environments, many national health club chains that have
traditionally served a younger, more price-sensitive consumer
have been forced to alter their approach to remain competitive.
Larger clubs have an advantage when adjusting to consumer
demands because of their size and scale. By adding medical
programs to their recreational/social programs, they have more
potential to reach the older market. Smaller facilities have fewer
spaces, and these spaces are usually dedicated to active fitness
programs, such as weight training, group exercise, etc. Larger
facilities usually have more passive program areas, such as
educational classrooms, spa and rehabilitation areas, and social
gathering spaces. Nevertheless, all facilities can reach
boomer-age consumers if they keep the following things in focus:
All facilities should have a balance between active and passive
spaces. Exercise, sports and other active spaces are louder; they
pump members up and provide the conditioning effect. Passive
spaces are quieter; they slow members down, quiet stress and
Young consumers are attracted to primarily active programs,
whereas many middle age and older consumers are attracted to
quality passive programs.
Many of your members experience their first serious illness in
there 40s or 50s when the prevalence of chronic illness rises.
Arthritis, high blood pressure, hearing problems, diabetes and
heart disease are among the most common ailments. As these
chronic conditions emerge, people spend more money on
healthcare products and services. Baby boomers are avid
consumers of "quick fixes" and "magical cures." Clubs that offer
credible programs to reach these people will have a decided
In a competitive arena, branding, or being known for a particular
product or program, is a strong advantage in reaching particular
Developing medical alliances and effective advertising can bring
added credibility to your facility.
Charging extra for your expanded wellness services or charging
more for a fitness/wellness membership can build ancillary
income, which can lead to greater overall financial stability.
When deciding what services to add to your facility to best attract
and meet the needs of baby boomers, consider that 80 percent of
all patient visits to primary care physicians are linked to stress.
Stress is known to affect the six leading causes of death in the
U.S.: cancer, lung ailments, accidental injuries, cirrhosis of the
liver, suicide and, above all, heart failure, the leading cause of
death in the U.S. The core of stress management programs is
teaching people to relax. Traditionally, the health club industry has
helped people to relax through spa facilities and programs. This
has included self-serve spa components, such as sauna, steam,
whirlpool and cold plunge. In addition, spa treatment facilities
have included rooms for hydrotherapy, massage and other
With the fitness industry's expanded awareness of its ability to
treat chronic ailments that surface as their members reach middle
age, fitness centers can adopt new service strategies revolving
around complementary and alternative medicine. These can
largely be accommodated in existing health club spaces.
The terms "complementary and alternative medicine," "integrative
medicine," "holistic medicine," and other variations are difficult to
define with precision because they are frequently used
interchangeably. To minimize confusion, they can be defined as
"Complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) refers to
self-care products, nontraditional treatment modalities and belief
systems that are widely embraced by consumers. Collectively,
these constitute the backbone of a multi-billion-dollar medical
economy in which traditional healthcare and the fitness industry
have only marginally participated. "CAM providers" are those
individuals and organizations who supply alternative products and
Consumer interest in CAM has exploded in recent years:
Studies indicate that more than 40 percent of the adult population
has used one or more CAM therapies in the past 12 months to
manage a health concern.
Expenditures on CAM-related products and services are now
estimated in excess of $20 billion annually, the majority of which
is out of pocket.
A small but growing number of health plans and health systems
have responded with programs designed to capitalize on this
"Integrative medicine" does not refer to specific products or
modalities; rather, it encompasses a process that seeks to
combine the best ideas and practices of traditional and
nontraditional medicine into optimal therapeutic combinations.
A number of major national surveys and published research
reports have documented consumer interest in and usage of
CAM therapies in 1998 alone. These include:
Astin, J. Why patients use alternative medicine: A national survey.
JAMA 279, 1548-1553, 1998
Isenburg, D., et al. Trends in alternative medicine: A national
survey in the United States 1990-1997. JAMA 280, 1569-1575,
The Landmark Report on Public Perceptions of Alternative Care.
www.landmarkhealthcare.com, Jan. 1998.
Understanding consumer trends in complementary and alternative
medicine: A national survey. Stanford Center for Research in
Disease Prevention, Sep. 1998.
All of these studies have documented that the following
interventions were identified as useful therapies by consumers:
nutritional counseling, massage, biofeedback, meditation,
acupuncture, vitamin therapy, chiropractic services, yoga, Tai Chi,
imagery or hypnosis, botanical/herbal medicine and homeopathy.
To integrate some of these services into your present offerings,
notice that all of these services and programs are staged in
passive component areas. In other words, many can be operated
out of existing passive program spaces, such as classrooms,
massage rooms, group exercise rooms, offices and other
If you are building a new facility, allow for additional, all-purpose,
soundproofed spaces that can be used for developing "brand
value" programs. These programs, according to David Shore,
associate dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, create
"strategic awareness plus perceived quality plus singular
distinction." These initiatives are what can create a competitive
advantage for your facility.
Through each decade of change in the fitness industry, people's
understanding of health has changed, and with it fitness programs
and services have expanded. As facilities continue to adapt,
predictions abound as to where the industry will be in the next few
decades. Nevertheless, everyone seems to agree that whatever
changes come, many will be driven by the new consumer and the
large baby boomer generation.
|All contents contained herein,
Copyright ©2003 by Donald DeMars International, Inc.