‘Lifestyle is medicine’ but who is the Life Style doctor? - Part II


By John van Heel, EFAA

Just like the General Practitioner is a specialist in diseases and the physiotherapist in muscle and joint complaints, fitness instructors are specialists in the field of a healthy lifestyle. This is of course not the case in all sports centres. A certain segment of sports centres chooses quantity. However, a large group chooses quality and is developing its expertise on the fitness floor at a great pace. These are the lifestyle- and prevention centres of the future.

There is currently a clear segmentation between budget clubs and regular sports centres, and the need for a clearer positioning of both is greater than currently thought. Regular centres that choose quality can develop into lifestyle and prevention centres that characterise themselves in offering specific target-group-oriented programmes and lifestyle coaching. Coaches and instructors in these centres have expertise on specific target groups. In these centres, people with a specific aim are guided optimally and within a specific scientific framework. People with a chronic disease, those who risk a chronic illness and those who simply aim for a healthy lifestyle, find qualitative guidance in these centres, from an official, science-based protocol. Protocols that are developed on the basis of this project for the fitness industry.

Steps to be taken
First and foremost, action should be taken by fitness entrepreneurs and personal trainers. Budget or quality. Another choice will also need to be made by regular sports centres. Quality alone is not enough. Without target group expertise, qualitative sports centres will not be capable of fulfilling an important role as a link in new preventive health care.

New preventive health care
Lifestyle is increasingly being regarded as the most important “medicine” of the future. GPs will soon refer people to lifestyle programmes and lifestyle interventions. In 2011 the Netherlands started its national exercise course of treatment, where diabetics and pre-diabetics are referred to an exercise and prevention programme by GPs. The new preventive health care will be a preventive safety net to trace the risks of chronic diseases early on and to prevent them with effective interventions.
The unique position of sports centres is the combination of a safe, sound and effective range of exercises that can be done throughout the year, the national network, because of which there is always a prevention centre nearby and a lifestyle expert is always present to guide the programme.

What is required of the fitness industry?
Bridging the care sector will not happen automatically. The fitness industry will need to develop specialities and fitness entrepreneurs will have to choose to become a lifestyle and prevention centre. These specialities will need to get a recognised status and the experts will have to remain updated on knowledge in their area of expertise. EREPS, the European Register of Exercise Professionals, is the ideal control and stimulation system for this. However, health and lifestyle prevention expertise should not end with coaches; consumers also have a structural lack of healthy lifestyle knowledge. Coaches are probably ideal lifestyle educators. If low-threshold and attractive lifestyle research is offered through sports centres, developing knowledge in the field of a healthy lifestyle will become a lot easier for the consumer. More specifically, there is a need for three sub-projects:

  1. Low-threshold lifestyle education programmes for consumers and staff
  2. Developing expertise for fitness coaches on specific target groups
  3. Developing quality and expertise for sports centres to be able to become prevention centres

This is of course just a first step, but also an important choice for sports centres and a major step towards a healthier society. Expertise on the fitness floor in the field of diabetes and pre-diabetes is now essential and fits in perfectly with the needs of the national and European government, business world, health insurers, GPs and consumers. With experts in the field and a qualitative organisation, the fitness industry is becoming a major link in new preventive health care. Sports centres that choose this form of quality will jointly become a national and European preventive health network. Expertise and quality will have to be developed continually in these centres, obesity will follow after diabetes and then probably the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, COPD prevention, back complaints prevention, etc. Where people currently fall into a sort of limbo after, for instance, physiotherapy, they will in the future be referred to a prevention programme in these centres. What is most effective is if GPs trace the risk factors early, after which the consumer starts to follow the lifestyle and exercise programme to prevent a chronic disease and/or worsening of the condition. Specific target groups, such as youngsters and the over fifties, will also form a major spearhead in these centres. Parents are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of lifestyle for their children and would prefer a qualitative solution. Those over fifty want to age vitally, but with specialist guidance in the field of health and lifestyle.

Sharing the vision
It should not be forgotten that, apart from an effective place to work on your vitality and health, sports centres are also social meeting places that are nice to hang out in. Prevention centres are at the top end of the market with regard to product and this should include decent facilities and qualitative staff. So, knowledge alone is not enough, the prevention centre of the future is a second home, a cosy place to meet friends and enjoy excellent service. Organisations believing in the vision of a fitness branch as a preventive health branch that want to be part of this programme, can contact me via our website.