|Reaching for Balance
In Program Design
True Health is Achieved by Balancing our
Physical Fitness Endeavors with an Equal Emphasis
on Passive Educational and Stress Management Programs
By Donald DeMars
Reprint from Bodylife
It is a fact that overall life expectancy
throughout the industrialized world has
continued to rise over the past few
centuries as immunological science,
research technology, surgical
procedures and chemical medicine
People are living longer, and by the year 2000, in the United States alone, 77,000 more
"Baby Boomers" will reach their 50th birthday; and by 2030, there will be twice as
many 65-year-olds as there are today.
The changes we are about to see, and are already beginning to see on a global level in
the more industrialized countries with advanced economies, in fitness and health
promotion, point to a real opportunity to reduce our dependence on health care delivery
systems that are out of date.
The health and fitness industry historically has predominantly served a younger adult
consumer, with active, physically demanding activities. But as the age of the consumers
income has increased as well, we have seen a growing interest in more passive programs.
We are, in fact beginning to take a more balanced approach to our understanding of
fitness. During my professional involvement with over 200 health and fitness centers
over the past 20 years, it is clear that most facilities have emphasized active, physical
fitness programs. But we can no longer talk about true health in isolation from the
"other side of fitness…" the mental or psychological side.
Fitness facilities are coming to be seen not only as places for active sports, fun and
physical enhancement, but as environments that also offer passive programs for
education, skill enhancement, true relaxation, behavior modification and rehabilitative
services. In short: environments for a balanced lifestyle.
The industry, of course, is still predominantly active programs.
Most clubs are principally set up for "physical" fitness, offering weight training,
aerobics, lap swimming, jogging, racquet sports, etc. But innovative wellness centers
and traditional health clubs, alike, are moving strongly toward dealing with this "other
side" and its direct relationship to health. The mindbody connection is increasingly being
found to be… the heart of true health.
Just as active physical conditioning seeks to repair the deconditioning caused by a
sedentary existence or the lack of regular physical exercise (thereby making the person
less prone to injury and disease), special passive programs seek to deactivate the
principal debilitating psychological effect of modern living: the syndrome of stress.
Few people will disagree with the statement that the pace of modern life is unnerving
and debilitating. The Age of Information is here, and technology has brought the
world's problems into the home. There seem to be more uncertainties, fewer support
systems and fewer options. The pressure never seems to let up; and it is this constant,
pounding, long-term type of stressful pressure that has produced an everyday
phenomenon called "burn-out." People who are burned out exhibit chronic fatigue,
apathy, and psychosomatic illness. Such individuals become physically, psychologically,
and emotionally depleted.
Every person’s adjustments to stress depend a great deal on age, sex, temperament,
and heredity disposition. Some people can face just about anything and remain
relatively calm, and others tense up at virtually nothing. But it is not only the tools
people are born with that allow them to cope. The programs and resources that are put
at the public’s disposal through our fitness facilities enable people to progressively gain
more awareness and control over mind and body. Stress is primarily due to the way in
which people react to a particular situation. The intensity of stress (or one’s reactions)
and the physiological and biochemical havoc that it wreaks on the body depends on the
way the situation is perceived. Stress management helps identify and prevent improper
reactions. Stress management programs and resources are needed in depth and
abundance in the fitness industry.
The Stress Toll
The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia in the
United States, estimates that between 70% - 80% of all illness
is related to the consumer’s lifestyle choices. Stress, for
example, is known to affect the six leading causes of death in
the United States. It affects cancer, lung ailments, accidental
injuries, cirrhosis of the liver, suicide and, above all, heart
failure, the leading cause of death in America.
Although the effect of stress on the heart was recognized as far back as 1678 by the
English anatomist, William Harvey, only recently have we begun to truly understand
how much the heart is affected.
For decades physicians believed that the basic cause of coronary heart disease was
that the heart became starved for oxygen because of reduced blood flow caused by
clogged arteries. Arteries become clogged with cholesterol and other substances from
the blood that are deposited on the inner walls of the vessels. Over time, such
deposits can increase, causing the arteries to become so narrow that they can no
longer carry blood to meet the requirements of the heart.
During the past decade, however, research discoveries have revolutionized our
understanding of coronary heart disease. They have revealed other mechanisms that
can also reduce blood flow to the heart. The two most important ones are coronary
artery spasm and platelet clumping, both of which may be activated by emotional
Coronary arteries are dynamic organs. They are lined with smooth muscle that can go
into spasms and shut down the flow of blood. And if the arteries are already clogged
with cholesterol, a small spasm may cause pain or heart failure.
Platelets are specialized blood cells that promote blood clotting. Blood clotting during
injury is essential; platelets clump together to stop bleeding. But during stressful
situations, platelets may also clump together inside the coronary arteries and cause a
During stress our brains stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, the heart rate
increases, and the arteries constrict. Nerve endings located in the heart and arteries
release a hormone called norepinephrine, and the adrenal glands also produce
norepinephrine and epinephrine (or adrenaline). These hormones bind to cellular
receptors, or switches, which turn on under stress and cause coronary spasms,
platelet clumping or both.
The "stress-induced" reaction or stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system is
called the "fight or flight" response, the body’s physiological changes prepare the body
to either stand its ground or run. Occasional stress may have been appropriate for our
ancestors (tightening up before a flight, or platelet clumping to stop the bleeding
caused by a wound may have been very helpful). But although conceivably more "life
and death" intense, our ancestor’s stress was not as constant as today’s.
The core of stress management programs is proper medical screening technologies,
and then teaching people to relax.
Relaxation is achieved through quiet, singular focus, a lack of interruption, solitude,
low lighting and a passive unawareness of the rest of the world.
Fitness centers that want to provide a more balanced program that is pointing to the
future, should provide the following components for more efficient and productive
customer service programs:
A good message has traditionally been one of the most available, satisfying, and
relaxing experiences in the health club industry.
Build an Environs Room - This small, acoustically prepared, all-purpose room
accommodates no more than 16 people. It should have a buoyant, carpeted floor;
movable, comfortable reclining chairs; adjustable lighting with optional black-out
drapes or shades for the windows specialized sound and video systems; and a double-
entry door system to allow you to program for reduced interruption. An environs
room is totally free of noise invasion, and capable of a number of programs such as:
Stretching for flexibility, increased circulation and reduced muscle tension.
Breathing exercises from yoga techniques or their facsimile. During stress, breathing is
rapid and shallow, but when relaxed, it is slow and full. How one breathes affects
internal balance. Proper breathing makes an individual more centered and focused.
Meditation focuses awareness and energies on something neutral, such as counting or
the "mantras" of Transcendental Meditation. Such neutral "turning off the world"
techniques set off built-in mechanisms that are the opposite of fight-or-flight responses.
Visualization allows a person to see himself relax. This is directed meditation. Mental
images that produce targeted bodily responses are delivered by audio, video, or
Biofeedback programs make an individual aware of what is going on in his body, and
teach how the body can be voluntarily affected. Self-hypnosis utilizes autosuggestion
techniques for relaxation responses.
Psychological Stress Test Room - This double room is used for a Cardiovascular
Reactivity test designed by University of Nebraska Cardiologist, Robert Elliot. The
test measures how an individual reacts to different types of environmentally and
psychologically stressful situations. It documents the points where unhealthful reactions
take place within the heart, and the individual is then given the behavior modification
tools or techniques to disarm such responses in the future.
Spa Facilities - Clean and vibrant spa facilities provide a number of cleansing, health-
enhancing relaxation techniques:
Massage must be delivered within a totally quiet environment. Lighting must be
indirect and ambient. Massage enhances circulation, reduces swelling, keeps skin
healthy and promotes deep and sustained relaxation. An adjoining treatment room and
stall shower allows the massage room to be used for herbal wraps and body scrubs,
which add to the overall inventory of programs.
Sauna and steam are the standard club offering, and both offer increased relaxation
and increased circulation by cleansing skin of waste products and salts.
A relaxing and contemplative sojourn in a club whirlpool that is clean and
environmentally pleasing is physically and emotionally cleansing.
Hydrotherapy makes the body glow with contentment, offering two treatments in one;
massage and moist heat. The warm, agitated water improves circulation, removes
lactic acid from muscles, relaxes stiff joints and produces general relaxation.
A pool for floating requires managed pool hours for relaxation techniques. Flotation
tanks are also a growing method of floating for required relaxation effects.
Classroom / Forum - A classroom or forum for education programs and skill-
enhancing activities to promote stress reduction is useful. The chairs should have desk
arms; the room should be equipped for audio-video presentations; and it should be
acoustically prepared for total quiet.
Assessment Area - A diagnostic or assessment area for discovery of individual
differences in family history, personality, habits, lifestyle, personal preferences, and
physical limitations is also important. This area may include offices, exam rooms,
conference area, lab, testing rooms, etc.
Reducing cholesterol intake is essential. Recently reported research indicates that each
one percent decrease in cholesterol levels produces up to a three percent decrease in
the incidence of heart attack and sudden death. Diet and health go hand-in-hand.
Without question, the aging of the consumer and the introduction of stress
management into the fitness field will make our fitness facilities more medically
oriented than physical fitness traditionally has been. And fitness programs of the future,
the true fitness programs, will become increasingly more medical in substance. This
will require better qualified personnel, medical involvement at various levels, and
facilities designed to accommodate this new direction.
It does not mean, however, that the recreational facility of yesterday will be the
medical clinic of tomorrow. There will increasingly be a trend toward balancing the
active and passive, medical and non-medical, critical and non-critical; and the dividing
line between the opposite sides of the balance will continue to blur. The true insight
into positioning these seemingly contradictory elements in the most positive way is that
they are all appropriate, useful, and life-enhancing elements that work together in your
fitness enterprise... if you put them together logistically, physically, and tastefully so
that you drive out anxiety, intimidation, and reluctance on the part of the consumer to
join the club.
|All contents contained herein,
Copyright ©2003 by Donald DeMars International, Inc.