An Open COVID-19 Challenge to the Fitness Industry

Home fitness has been taking off over the past two years, well before COVID-19, with the emergence of startups like Excy, Mirror Fitness, Peloton, Tonal and more. Together, these companies have brought about big disruptions in both hardware and software to bring premium gym quality workout experiences into the home in a way that is unique to the 21st century. These pieces of equipment are not like the home exercise equipment of yore that largely ended up as sad, sort of dusty clothing racks. They harness digital training and coaching, and have sleek hardware designs that elevate the fitness experience in the home.

Top left to right clockwise: Excy, Tonal, Mirror Fitness, Peloton

As COVID-19’s social distancing rules shine a very bright light on the urgent need for home exercise, the actions the industry takes and the choices we make today will shape the future of how consumers look at exercise for years to come. The evidence is mounting on the devastating disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on those with advanced age and comorbidities of hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and more. But, research is also showing COVID-19 to be fatal to young people with comorbidities and for those with a BMI over 25. It can also be fatal to people with no comorbidities and who are perfectly healthy, but the domino effect of COVID-19 with comorbidities greatly increases the risk of dying from the disease across all demographics.

The domino effect of COVID-19 with comorbidities greatly increases the risk of dying from the disease.

This brings me to openly challenge the fitness industry to start being more inclusive in how we market exercise products and services to have a greater health impact on the world. I’m begging you to embrace the call to help those with comorbidities feel included, accepted, and valued in all aspects of your brand. The lessons we are learning from COVID-19 demand a new way of thinking in how we use powerful images and stories to inspire people to exercise more, regardless of age, race, disability, or current fitness level. Everyone gains the health benefits of physical activity, and they have a lower risk of premature mortality than do inactive people. We must to more to drive active participation in exercise higher.

But a quick Google image search on “home workouts during coronavirus” turns up images and tips that only feature healthy people from leading publications like the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Insider, NY Post, and more. With very few mirror reflections of people with comorbidities that invite their participation.

Google image search results for “home workouts during coronavirus”

Today, about half of all American adults — 117 million people — have one or more preventable chronic diseases. Seven of the ten most common chronic diseases are favorably influenced by regular physical activity and are critical in the fight against comorbidities. Yet nearly 80 percent of adults are not meeting the key guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity, while only about half meet the key guidelines for aerobic physical activity. This lack of physical activity is linked to approximately $117 billion in annual health care costs and about 10 percent of premature mortality. We must do more to prevent the progression of an already in motion pandemic of physical inactivity. COVID-19 gives us our “now or never” moment.

We’re a small bootstrapped mission-driven company, so only have so much time, staff, and budget to change how marketing fitness products and services is done. That’s why I’m calling on the fitness industry to throw out exclusively featuring perfectly shaped models and start showing more people who represent the average American who is very sedentary and out-of-shape. Also, to throw out the appearance that one has to exercise hard and suffer in order to get the health benefits of exercise.

Showcasing people of all shape, sizes, and demographics just might help, especially when we can showcase the scientific benefits of physical activity that continues to grow, including:

· Reduced risk of cancer. Research shows that adults who participate in greater amounts of physical activity have reduced risks of developing cancers of the bladder, breast, colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach.

· Brain health include possible improved cognitive function, reduced anxiety and depression, and improved sleep and quality of life.

· For pregnant women, reduced risk of excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, and postpartum depression.

· For older adults, reduced risk of fall-related injuries. Older adults, including those with a variety of health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, hip fracture, and those with frailty, obtain benefits from multicomponent physical activities.

· For people with various chronic medical conditions, reduced risk of all-cause and disease-specific mortality, improved physical function, and improved quality of life.

Helping those with limited mobility due to injury, disability, and chronic health conditions has always been our core demographic with Excy. Unfortunately, it took breaking my leg and getting a blood clot to get a small glimpse into the plight of those who struggle with exercise and physical therapy. So, when you visit our home page, you will see seniors, those with injuries, paralyzed athletes, or health conditions like Parkinson’s disease or MS. But we need to do more too!

Customers using Excy. We need to do more too!

I know these are your customers too in many ways and some marketing guru suggests that it’s bad for your brand image to put them on your home page. Time to get a new marketing mindset. I’d challenge you to start hiring people who look more like your customers and more like the average American who needs us now more than ever. This includes featuring them in live workouts, in branded materials, and sharing their stories.

The realization by Americans that they are spending $1.8 billion annually on unused gym membership is helping us win the home exercise battle where fitness is more convenient. COVID-19 gives us a platform to be the catalyst to help more people use home exercise to advance their health, prevent comorbidities, and the progression of disease. Obviously not everyone needs our equipment, nor can everyone afford it. Lets inspire those who do turn to us by showing people of all shapes and sizes using our products vs. perfectly shaped models or fitness trainers. This could play a significant role in getting people to meet the minimum requirements of exercise to fight preventable disease. Maybe we can help people understand that 150 minutes a week of moderate or 75 minutes vigorous aerobic physical activity, plus muscle-strengthening activities of moderate intensity two or more days a week is doable.

The cost of doing nothing and continuing the status quo of fitness perfection is too high. I’m nervous that one in four U.S. adults have two or more chronic conditions, while more than half of older adults have three or more chronic conditions. It concerns me that the likelihood of these types of comorbidities occurring goes up as we age. Going forward in a post COVID-19 world, where in 10,000 Americans will turn 65 each day from now through the end of 2029 with increasing comorbidities, the fitness industry must become more radically inclusive.



Occasional Thoughts by Michele Mehl

Celebrating Physical Activity and the Power of Exercise as Medicine for a Higher Quality of Life! Lets Move More!