March is National Nutrition Month® (NNM), an annual campaign from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association). This year’s theme, “Personalize your Plate,” invites people to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical-activity habits.
Because there is no single approach to optimal nutrition, programming should be tailored to meet a client’s needs. To account for unique bodies, backgrounds, preferences and goals, NNM outlines four strategies to implement individualized healthful eating plans:
- Cooking and Prepping
- Meal Planning
- Varying a Diet
- Visiting a Registered Dietitian (RD).
For those wanting to adopt healthier eating habits, personalization is key. The newly released 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) provide accessible nutrition advice and a sensible starting point for most Americans. The DGA can be viewed as the top of a funnel, while the end of the funnel (the small hole) represents a realistic, personalized nutrition plan.
So, what approaches work best to narrow the funnel? Here are four step-wise strategies, adapted from the NNM website, that your clients can use throughout the month (and beyond) to build individualized and long-term habits for healthy eating.
Week 1 Goal: Plan Meals for the Week
Planning a dinner menu for the week is a keystone habit for healthy eating. Ten minutes of planning each week removes the energy associated with making decisions in the evening when you are tired and hungry. Further, it helps create a shopping list for the week. “Theme Nights” can ease the planning; for example, consider Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Slow-Cooker Wednesdays, Stir Fry Fridays, and Take-out Saturdays, with Thursdays and Sundays as leftover nights.
Tip: Place a white board or chalk board in the kitchen with the days of the week as a cue to create a weekly dinner plan.
Week 2 Goal: Try a New Fruit or Vegetable
Variety from foods can increase nutrient and antioxidant intake, potentially improving gut health and lowering overall inflammation. When creating a shopping list (based on the weekly menu), encourage your clients to expand their range by including a “new” fruit or vegetable they haven’t yet tried. Further, only purchasing groceries from a specified list can limit impulse buys, which usually include less-nutritious foods.
Tip: Try less-common fruits and vegetables such as dragon fruit, star fruit, flowering kale, rainbow chard, baby bok choy, rainbow carrots, purple potatoes and jack fruit, and herbs such as dill, coriander and rosemary.
Week 3 Goal: Try a New Recipe
Your clients know they should eat healthier, but do not always know how. While expanding the palate with new foods, encourage them to try new recipes as well, especially those incorporating vegetables as the main ingredients.
Tip: When trying a new recipe, sit down and eat as a family (or group of roommates). Sitting down and connecting while eating with family or friends has been associated with a cascade of healthy behaviors.
Week 4 Goal: Consult a Health Professional
NNM recommends consulting with a registered dietitian (RD), who are health professionals credentialed to assess nutrition status and create meal plans. Fortunately, improvements in telehealth make seeking expert assessment and advice a few clicks away. Unsure where to start? Speak to a primary care physician first, as they can write referrals for RDs and other health and exercise professionals.
Tip: Encourage your clients to take a moment for honest self-reflection to determine what is their largest barrier to achieving their goals: fitness, nutrition, medical/health status or behavior modification?
Adopting healthy habits during NNM month may resemble New Year’s resolutions, in that many people use the first of the year to spark motivation for improving fitness and nutrition. Yet, by February first motivation has dissipated and prior habits have reestablished. Thus, the question to ask is how your clients can maintain a relatively healthy eating pattern—through March and beyond—when life stressors overwhelm and diminish motivation? Willpower is not the answer; nor can the answer be found in a motivational post or quote.
Rather, remind your clients that the answer is to gradually adopt new habits and strive for progress, rather than perfection. It also includes ditching the idea that nutrition is binary (one thing or the other). Food, diets and eating behaviors are not “good” or “bad.” Nutrition exists on a continuum, as some foods are more nutritious than others and certain habits contribute to overall health more than others. People simply slide back and forth on this scale, sometimes eating ideal amounts of nutritious foods and sometimes overconsuming the less-nutritious foods. Your goal as a health and exercise professional is to nudge your clients toward the “more nutritious” end.
The final step is to foster a growth mindset in your clients. As described in Mindset, by Carol Dweck, individuals with a “growth” mindset (as opposed to a “fixed” mindset) embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, welcome effort and learn from criticism.
You can help your clients foster a growth mindset for positive behavior change by encouraging them to:
- Focus on process, not outcomes
- View challenges and effort as the path to mastery
- Find inspiration in the success of others
- Avoid defining themselves based on results
- Be willing to fail, to be wrong and to start over again while keeping in mind the lessons they’ve learned
Personalizing Your Plate appreciates that everyone has a different starting point and, therefore, a different goal, along the more/less-nutritious continuum. For more information and to download toolkits that include tip sheets, activities, press releases and planning materials, visit the NNM website.
As an ACE Fitness Nutrition Specialist, you’ll help your clients make healthier, long-lasting food choices through nutrition education and behavior change.
When discussing diversity in the fitness industry—or any industry, for that matter—it’s essential to differentiate among the many segments and levels that exist within the big picture. For example, a fitness facility may have diversity among its clientele and its floor staff, but not among those in positions of leadership. A large equipment manufacturer may display diversity in its advertising but fail to consider unique perspectives when building that marketing campaign.
In addition, it’s always vital to recognize that diversity does not necessarily equate to inclusion and equity. Stated simply, people can be invited into the room, but if they’re not welcomed, valued and appreciated, then inclusion and equity cannot truly exist.
Last week, the second installment of ACE’s Black History Month Dialogue Series was hosted by Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, FACSM, ACE president and chief science officer. While the first installment focused on health equity, public health and physical activity during COVID-19, this conversation centered on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the fitness industry. Joining him were Ewunike Akpan, owner of Maryland-based LOTUS Fitness and an ACE Certified Personal Trainer since 1999, and Alex McLean, an international presenter who has been an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor since 2008.
The conversation kicked off with McLean offering a metaphor for the fitness industry—a tall building. On the first floor, there is a lot of traffic and a number of entry points. But, getting upstairs gets tougher with each flight of stairs. The entry level, as represented by this ground floor, is diverse, but each floor above, as you move through managerial roles, brand education teams and corporate positions, grows less and less so. “When we look at the industry from a broad perspective,” he explains, “it does appear to be diverse. But as we start to narrow the focus, we see that some segments are more diverse than others.”
That said, Akpan has seen progress in her 20-plus years in the industry. “The makeup of the industry today is a lot more diverse than it ever has been,” she says, recalling a fitness conference she attended after first getting certified where she felt “like one of a handful of Black people” out of the thousands of attendees and presenters at the event. “Since that time, I have seen a serious change, not only in the participants, but also among those who are presenting at conferences.”
McLean and Akpan agree that there is still much work to be done. Getting back to the building metaphor, McLean explains, “We need to think about how to increase diversity on the ground floor by increasing the access or by decreasing the barriers of entry.” He continues: “To get to the top floors, we need avenues that allow for that upward mobility, so that we can increase diversity in those more senior-level and upper management–type roles.”
Potential steps identified by the panelists that companies and organizations might take to create those avenues include:
- Creating task forces of employees and outside experts to evaluate the situation, create a plan and, more importantly, act on that plan
- Being more intentional in their hiring processes in order to lower the barriers of entry
- Offering scholarships to cover the costs of certification and continuing education
- Offering career-development plans and job-placement programs
- Building mentorship programs
- Choosing people of color as subject matter experts for events and programs, especially in areas they are traditionally not a part of, including business building, brand development and scientific development
The Value of Representation
The fact that Akpan is seeing increasing numbers of people of color among those presenting at industry events is important, in that it is an example of representation among those who lead in the fitness industry, and who educate others to become future leaders. “As a participant in fitness, a fitness enthusiast, as well as a trainer and instructor,” she explains, “whenever I walk into a room and see [a person of color] presenting to me, I immediately feel that much more empowered to connect with the information, to learn the information.”
As an industry, it’s essential that we start to elevate people of color to have opportunities to take on those roles. As more people of color enter the fitness industry and then move into leadership positions—whether in the board room or in the group fitness room at a convention—the industry will become more welcoming and relevant to more potential customers who may not currently see a place for them in their local gym.
This need carries across all segments of the industry. As Akpan explains, “We need to have more representation in the wellness industries, in yoga, in Pilates. I’ve always felt—and I do not teach those formats, but I practice them—that I am somewhat out of my lane even just being in a studio.” If that is felt by a 20-plus year veteran of the industry, imagine how a newcomer to exercise might feel walking into a facility that is not reflective of them and their experiences.
McLean agrees, saying that representation is valuable from all viewpoints. From the corporate perspective, fitness is a business, and having more diverse viewpoints at decision-making levels often allows a business to thrive. From an employee standpoint, morale is a lot higher, they’re more engaged and they bring unique experiences to the table, and those experiences spark creativity and innovation that might never happen if people of color didn’t have a seat at the table. And from the customer/end user viewpoint, McLean says, “People love to support and interact with businesses that employ people who look just like them. It’s a great way to build customer loyalty and customer support and is also going to positively impact the brand.”
Recognizing Subtle and Blatant Forms of Racism
There’s no doubt that racism and stereotypes of varying degrees have certainly filtered into the fitness industry. During this far-reaching conversation, McLean and Akpan both shared stories that people of color are all too familiar with, and of which others are becoming increasingly aware. They ranged from McLean being called racial slurs on the fitness floor, seeing less experienced people make more money than him and being told “we don’t listen to rap” by a group fitness participant he’d never met before to Akpan being referred to by club members as “that Black instructor” and being asked to show credentials that her white counterparts were never asked to produce. Akpan pointed out with a knowing laugh that if customers can call someone “that Black instructor” and everyone knows who they are referring to, that’s a sure sign that you don’t have enough diversity among your staff.
Among the countless reasons why these stories are so upsetting is the fact that they run counter to those things that lie at the very heart of what health coaches and exercise professional do each and every day—build trust, rapport, relationships, community and connection.
As Akpan points out, exercise professionals always arrive ready to learn. They work with clients with different levels of fitness, goals and injuries and they are open to learning as much as possible about how to help each individual client. The encounters described above represent a tremendous barrier from the first moment of the first meeting, which she believes stems from a lack of trust, without having taken a look at her experience level or what she brings to the table, or even giving it a try. Trust is vital, and she wasn’t even given the chance to begin to develop trust and rapport.
McLean offered a helpful suggestion on how to navigate these awkward situations. Faced with whether to let it go or lash out, he suggests asking questions to prompt reflection on the part of the offender. “People will get defensive if you attack them,” he says. “As a person of color, when that microaggression comes to you, one, you’re in shock. Asking questions helps the person to reframe and question what bias prompted them to behave or speak the way they did.”
Despite the stories recounted above, McLean and Akpan remain hopeful, as they both see progress being made throughout the industry.
McLean, who is also a Master Trainer for some of the largest brands in the industry, including Schwinn, BOSU and Stairmaster, says that all brands, in and out of the fitness space, seem to be focusing on how to approach the diversity issue and present themselves in the best light. This is reflected most visibly in marketing campaigns that are growing increasingly diverse and representative.
But, are they making changes in the less visible parts of their businesses? Over the past year, countless companies have made promises via social media and other avenues to be a part of the solution moving forward, to address the issues surrounding social justice, equity and inclusion head on. Now, as Akpan points out, it’s time for them to follow through on something they themselves declared to be important. “I’m waiting for those commitments to come to fruition,” she says.
Dr. Bryant says that this all comes down to two things: intentionality, which involves being mindful and purposeful in taking actions necessary to bring about needed change, and commitment. “Both are required,” he says, “if we are going to see meaningful, consistent progress when you talk about equity diversity and inclusion…. It’s easy to make a statement and to make a donation, however eloquent that statement might be, but it requires some real intention and commitment to truly make a change.”
Imagine a world where packaged foods and drinks do not contain consistent and uniform nutrition facts labels. Consider how challenging it would be to make healthy food choices regarding the quality and quantity of the foods you consume. This was the case before 1990, when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). Since then, several iterations of nutrition facts labels have taken form, and, by the mid-1990s, most food packaging contained the iconic black and white label that most people recognize.
However, if you are a keen observer, you may have recently noticed changes to the nutrition facts label on some of the foods you purchase. In 2016, significant updates to the label were initiated for the first time in more than 20 years and food manufacturers are working together with the FDA to ensure a complete update by July 1, 2021. The nutrition facts label is being updated based on new nutrition research, updated scientific information, and input from the public, all to make it easier for consumers to make informed food choices to better support a healthy diet. This is all part of the FDA’s ongoing public health efforts to reduce nutrition-related preventable death and disease and to help individuals maintain healthy dietary practices.
1. Serving Sizes Have Been Revised to Better Reflect the Amounts of Food and Drink People Typically Consume
They are not a recommendation for how much a person should consume. For example, the serving size for soda has changed from 8 ounces to 12 ounces not to encourage the consumption of more soda, but instead to better represent how much soda is typically consumed as a single serving. In addition, the declared serving size now appears in a larger and bolder font. If a food package contains an amount that is between one and two servings, such as a 15 ounce can of soup, it is required to be labeled as one serving because people typically consume the whole can.
2. The Most Noticeable Change to the Label Is the Larger and Bolder Font Used for Calories
This change makes this information easy to find, which can be very helpful when comparing foods in the store or when keeping track of calories consumed.
3. Because Research Suggests That the Type of Fat Consumed Is More Important Than the Amount of Fat Consumed, “Calories From Fat” Has Been Removed From the Label
- The daily nutritional goal for total fat is 20–35% of total calories.
- Daily saturated fat intake should be less than 10% of total calories.
4. Added Sugars Are Now Required to Appear on the Nutrition Facts Label as a Percent Daily Value and in Grams
This addition to the label aligns with a key focus from the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for limiting foods and beverages higher in added sugars, with a recommendation to consume less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars. If you consume more than 10% of calories from added sugars, it is hard to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits.
5. Underconsumption of Vitamin D and Potassium Is Considered a Public Health Concern for the General U.S. Population Because an Inadequate Intake Is Associated With Health Concerns
Luckily, ensuring an adequate amount will now be easier with the requirement that potassium and vitamin D appear on the label. Additionally, not only must a percent daily value be provided for vitamin D, potassium, calcium, and iron, but the actual amount must also be provided. Vitamins A and C are no longer required to appear on the label because deficiencies of these nutrients are rare. Also, it is important to note that new scientific evidence has led to higher and lower percent daily values for certain nutrients (Tables 1 and 2). For example, the percent daily value for total fat has increased from 65 grams to 78 grams, meaning that if a packaged food contains 40 grams of fat in one serving it would have previously been labeled as 62% of the daily value and now it would be labeled as 51% of the daily value. In addition, added sugars and choline now have percent daily values (Table 3). Figures 1 and 2 depict the relationship between daily value and percent daily value—as one increases, the other increases.
- 5% daily value or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low.
- 20% daily value or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high.
6. The Footnote at the Bottom of the Label Has Been Simplified to Better Explain the Meaning of Percent Daily Value
This helps individuals more clearly understand nutrition information in the context of total daily calories consumed.
Reading the nutrition facts label may seem like a daunting task, but it can help you make informed dietary decisions as part of a healthy eating pattern and avoid nutrition-related health concerns. To practically apply this information and better understand how the label relates to your daily food intake, please visit MyPlate.
Considering the challenges of the last year and all the attention that going digital has received, you might be feeling as if you don’t have a choice. Here’s something to put your mind at ease: Entering the world of digital fitness is not necessarily a must-do. While providing digital options can indeed enhance your business, potentially increasing your reach and revenue, you must consider your target market, how you can best support client goals and your reasons for doing the work before you make a move. Here are a few questions to explore to determine if going digital is the right move for you.
1. Who is Your Target Market?
First, it’s important to define and understand your target market. With whom do you do your best work? Who most interests you? Who have you worked with in the past? And who are you most excited about working with in the future?
Once you know the answer to these questions, it’s essential to determine where the members of your target market are. Have they embraced digital? If so, are they using digital as a solution or supplement? Have they returned to in-person activities? Will they?
Keep in mind, if you discover that your target market is online, that still does not necessarily necessitate you meeting them there. Knowing if this is even a space where your most desired clients are showing up is step one in determining if going digital is right for you.
2. How Can You Best Support Client Goals?
Next, you must get clear on how the work you do supports client goals and how the products you offer can enhance specific outcomes.. Clients may be more likely to achieve the results they are looking for through consumption, or usage, of your products.
Results are pain points your target market is looking to alleviate or the desires they are after. You may have given this some thought in the past, or perhaps this is the first time you’re thinking of talking about what you do in these terms. Take some time to consider the feedback you typically receive from clients or participants about the work you do. You might recall hearing, “You helped me get stronger,” “Your classes increase my energy,” “Her coaching changed my relationship with my body” or “Your cueing gives me the confidence I’ve never had.”
Once you know the number-one way in which you support goal achievement (probably the one you hear most often), think about how you go about offering that support. This is your “secret sauce” and identifying it might take some deep reflection. Avoid jumping to the conclusion that the delivery (in-person, for example) is how you achieve the results. Think deeper; is it the intake you do, the programming you deliver, the cueing or the accountability you provide?
After you identify what it takes to achieve that result, you’ll need to determine if it’s possible to do this in a digital format. If it is, you should also explore the tools and know-how you’ll need to deliver digitally. Factor in the time and expense associated to ensure the return on your investment will be worthwhile.
3. What is Your Why?
Finally, you’ll need to think about why you do this work. What brings you joy? What is your biggest motivation for serving your target market?
Motivation comes in many shapes and sizes. For this conversation, let’s boil it down to three inclusive categories. Money (providing for yourself, your family, or saving for a rainy day) could be your driving force. It could also be the applause (knowing that you did a good job, are respected, or appreciated). It could also be the satisfaction of serving (seeing clients reach their goals, bringing joy to participants, empowering clients).
Each person prioritizes these key motivators differently. The order in which you place these motivators will make digital more or less attractive. For example, if the “applause” is a significant contributor to your overall satisfaction, you will need feedback, interaction and connection, which may be more challenging via digital. It’s certainly doable, but you’d need to explore how to build that into your plans if it’s essential.
I’d also encourage you to understand the potential unintended consequences of digital. Right now, everyone is talking up the positives, which are all very compelling. You may be looking to solve problems for yourself or your clients, but you must ensure the investment or tradeoffs for going digital do not outweigh the perceived benefit.
For example, you may be intrigued by the flexibility digital can provide. Working when and where you’d like versus driving to a gym every day is the upside. To take full advantage of this, however, you must be set up to work wherever you’d like, which might require an investment in resources such as the necessary devices and equipment, as well as Wi-Fi access and setting up an adequate space that projects a professional image.
Digital can save you time, whether it’s the drive time to and from the gym or clients, or even the time you might have to ‘wait’ between clients. But getting digital going and sustaining a digital business will require more time than preparing and delivering your sessions or classes. You will, for example, need to spend time learning the ins and outs of unique marketing needs and the technical requirements. This leads me to the last consideration.
Do you have the know-how? Not that you need to know how to do it all from the start, but if you don’t currently possess knowledge about running your business online, can you and are you willing to set aside time to learn? Or are you prepared to set aside resources to outsource?
While digital is undoubtedly attractive and an emerging opportunity set to evolve the fitness industry, you must take the time to determine if it is the right move for you. There are many resources available to help you build a digital business and a world waiting for you to get them moving.
Looking for more business advice? Check out ACE Continuing Education courses.
Rather than looking at learning as something they “have” to do, successful people in every industry view it as an opportunity to learn something new and exciting that will either help them in their business or help their customers benefit more from their services (ideally, both). For health coaches and exercise professionals, this could mean anything from courses on sales and marketing to a specialty certificate in communication and behavior change. When chosen well, continuing education allows you to build on your current skill set or broaden your skills into entirely new areas.
ACE offers a wide selection of continuing education opportunities. From ACE Specialty Programs and the ACE CEC Club to offerings from some of the most respected educators from around the globe, there’s something for everyone.
You may be surprised to learn that ACE also offers the opportunity to acquire continuing education credits (CECs) through some nontraditional channels. Here are creative ideas for earning CECs:
Up to 2.0 CECs
- Pass another ACE certification exam: Earn 2.0 CECs for successfully passing an additional ACE certification exam.
- Pass college courses from an accredited college/university with a grade ‘C’ or higher: Courses must be relevant to your ACE certification. University extension classes do not automatically qualify for CECs; however, you may petition for approval. Semester = 1.0 CEC per unit. Quarter = 0.8 CECs per unit.
Up to 0.5 CECs
- Give professional presentations: You may earn up to 0.5 CECs for a fitness-related professional presentation or lecture at a convention or symposium.
- Write a correspondence course: To qualify, you must be the sole author for all learning objectives, course content and the correspondence exam.
- Obtain another fitness certification: ACE offers CECs for earning all current National Committee for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)–accredited fitness certifications.
- Get published: You may earn 0.1 CEC for each published article in a fitness-related periodical, 0.2 CECs for each published chapter in a fitness-related book, and 0.5 CECs for any published fitness-related book or research paper in a peer-reviewed journal. The publication date must coincide with your renewal period.
Up to 0.2 CECs
- Take part in a clinical observation: You may earn 0.2 CECs by observing clinical procedures or surgeries related to your certification.
- Complete paid internships relevant to your ACE certification: You can up to 0.2 CECs for completing a paid internship. For internships completed to earn college credit, see the college course information in the “Up to 2.0 CECs” section above. If your internship is in conjunction with a college course, you cannot receive additional CECs for the internship if you’ve already received CECs for the course.
- Participate in community outreach: You can earn 0.1 CEC per renewal cycle by participating in a fitness-related event in your community.
Take a look at How To Develop a Continuing Education Strategy for additional thoughts on your professional development.
ACE has created a course for Personal Trainers and Group Fitness Instructors to help navigate your next steps as an ACE Certified PRO. Check out these 1 credit hour courses to learn more about how to set up your career and clients for success.
The statistics are startling to most of us, but, unfortunately, probably not all that surprising to people working in public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Black people are 1.4 times as likely to contract COVID-19 than their white counterparts, 3.7 times as likely to be hospitalized and 2.8 times as likely to die from the disease.
Last week, the first installment of ACE’s Black History Month Dialogue Series was hosted by Cedric X. Bryant, PhD, FACSM, ACE president and chief science officer. Joining him were Antonio Williams, PhD, associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington, School of Public Health and a member of the ACE Board of Directors, and Rory James, MPH, director of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion at Indiana University Bloomington, School of Public Health.
The wide-ranging conversation began by focusing on exactly why those numbers are so elevated for the Black community. According to James, one primary factor involves comorbidities and the burden of disease. Certain chronic conditions wreak havoc in the Black community, including hypertension, diabetes, obesity and asthma, all of which are devastating underlying factors for people who contract COVID-19.
It’s important to also consider social determinants of health, such as access to healthcare providers (as well as to transportation to and from those providers) and insurance coverage, including those who are under-insured. In addition, there is a historical distrust and skepticism of the medical community among blacks (here, James cites the horrific Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which lasted for 40 years before it ended in 1972 but is still fresh in the minds of many Black Americans). Unfortunately, as James points out, this distrust will likely extend to decisions about whether to take the vaccine, which may expand the racial divide evident in those CDC statistics.
Dr. Williams also points out that most minorities live in metropolitan areas where there’s not as much space to be six feet apart and often work in essential jobs in the community and are therefore not as able to isolate and stay safe. “It’s a domino effect,” explains Dr. Williams. “They’re at higher risk because they’re exposed more, but you also have those underlying chronic conditions. These non-communicable diseases that we have in the African-American community… really exacerbate the virus itself and lead to more hospitalizations, and, unfortunately, because of the racial issues we have inside the healthcare system, this could also lead to premature deaths that could have been prevented.”
Impacting Change on the Local Level
Health coaches and exercise professionals are positioned to play key roles in addressing or even reversing some of these inequities. You know the benefits of physical activity and can clearly and effectively communicate those benefits. You also know the constraints and barriers people face, as well as strategies for anticipating and overcoming those barriers. The next step is to find ways to deliver that messaging to communities that need it most.
All of the panelists agree that there is a knowledge gap, and that creates an opportunity for health coaches and exercise professionals to broaden their reach by providing resources and strategies to vulnerable communities.
James has a message for people who work in the fitness industry: “You are a part of public health.” If you are not part of the Black or brown communities, James recommends doing research or completing professional development on how you can do outreach effectively.
“You have to go where the people are,” says James. This may include places of worship or senior centers. It may also mean leveraging the fact that people are growing used to Zoom meetings and virtual gatherings. Perhaps you can take advantage of that to reach people you’ve never reached before.
“I challenge fitness professionals to look at themselves as activists,” says Dr. Williams. You can campaign for increased opportunities for physical activity in local communities and challenge policies that hinder the opportunity to be physically active. According to Dr. Williams, a lot of Black people live in communities that lack green space, may not be walkable, don’t have proper lighting, lack parks and recreation facilities and are food deserts. You can educate policy makers and key stakeholders about why people may be physically inactive or eat less healthfully in certain communities and offer solutions to help address the problem.
Defining Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion
These three terms are often used collectively, but it’s important to think about what each of those terms means on its own.
Mr. James always starts this conversation with inclusion. As he explains, you can have diversity and representation in terms of the numbers coming through the door of your facility, but you don’t have true inclusion unless Black, brown and other under-represented groups feel included in the space.
Inclusion means the creation of “places where people feel accepted, valued, honored and appreciated,” says James. “Welcome me, accept me, and celebrate me in this space”—that is inclusion.
When thinking about diversity, ask yourself, “Are we seeing all of the identities that we can possibly see in this space?” Think beyond race. Consider varying abilities, different faiths, and all the other dimensions and complexities of identity.
Finally, people often confuse equality and equity. Dr. Bryant explains that equality means “providing the same to all. Equity is more nuanced and involves recognizing that we don’t all start at the same place. So, we’ve got to acknowledge that and we’ve got to make adjustments for those imbalances that exist.”
Dr. Williams agrees. “You can’t provide the same services and support to everyone,” he says, “and expect the same results. We all have unique starting points.”
Having More Seats at the Table
Dr. Williams is optimistic about progress he sees in the fitness industry in terms of people and businesses being more mindful of the images and messages they’re using to market their products or services to people of all backgrounds. That said, there is still an underrepresentation of Black people in fitness facilities, and in the leadership of those facilities.
“Giving someone a seat at the table doesn’t mean that you have to pick your things up and leave. Just bring a chair with you,” explains Dr. Williams. “If you have a seat at the table in the fitness industry—whether you’re on the corporate side, you’re an allied health professional or you’re a health coach—bring another chair to the table and let someone else sit at the table, as well.”
James concurs: “Be intentional. Bring others to the table who may not look like you, who may not think like you, so they can have input.”
There is tremendous value in having diversity in leadership, as understanding cultural differences in how people come to physical activity is complex. An understanding of those differences and the potential barriers they create requires a diversity of experiences, both personal and professional. Gaining this understanding by welcoming new voices to the conversation will allow you to reevaluate how you serve your clientele, and how you communicate, inspire and empower them.
You may be nervous about offending someone when having difficult conversations. “You’re never going to offend someone by speaking to their spirit, speaking to their heart, speaking to their soul, and coming to them with a sense of ‘I want to help,’” says Dr. Williams. “No one would ever penalize you for trying to do those things.”
Putting yourself out there requires you to overcome fears of not being accepted because you don’t have all the answers. Outreach into new communities requires cultural intelligence and cultural competency. It also requires creativity, curiosity, bravery and humility.
You have to be able to acknowledge that you may not have the same background or experiences as the people you are hoping to serve. That said, health coaches and exercise professionals are positioned to help people—all people—live their absolute best lives.
Doing so will require focused and intentional efforts, a willingness to be comfortable being uncomfortable and an open mind and an open heart. You likely entered the fitness industry because of a deeply held desire to help people achieve optimal health and wellness. This may be the perfect moment to embrace a personal and professional evolution that allows you to expand your reach and your impact into those communities that need it most.