What We've Learned About Health and Fitness Over the Past 30 Years (And What We're Still Trying to Figure Out)

An industry veteran weighs in on ending the obesity epidemic and what you need to know about maintaining your long-term health


Obviously, scientists and researchers have been studying human health for much longer than 30 years.

But the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a highly-respected health and fitness organization that educates, certifies and represents a wide range of industry professionals is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary.

So that got us to wondering: what about health and fitness has been discovered in that time? And, what aspects are we still trying to figure out?

To get some solid answers, we talked with Scott Goudeseune, CEO and president of ACE — a man at the center of it all.

First, he laid out in simple terms what he’s learned and what has happened within the industry over the past 30 years.

What Goudeseune​ Learned
1. Weight loss is not just a function of moving, it is a function of behavior.

2. Group fitness is a key strategy in fitness center member retention.

3. Personal trainers and health care organization collaboration — certified health coaches emerge as a new professional with a capacity to work in collaboration with doctors and nurses to extend the clinic into the community.

4. Our industry needs a voice to represent and advance the health and fitness professional.

5. Work place wellness is key to containing healthcare costs.

What Has Happened
1. The 1990’s “low-fat era” increased confusion for the consumer and is cited as a contributing factor of the obesity epidemic.

2. Medical wellness and fitness begins to bridge the gap between the healthcare continuum and the fitness continuum for chronic disease.

3. “Active Aging” emerges to include living a longer quality life.

4. Functional fitness programs transitions from sport to life and work.

5. Accreditation is established to assess professional competence in the fitness industry.

So, in line with ACE’s goal of ending the obesity epidemic by 2035, we’ve learned a few important lessons that will likely contribute to its success. Especially, that it’s important for health care providers to work in collaboration with fitness professionals and health coaches; that we should likely place a greater emphasis on workplace wellness; and that it’s important to stay active as we age.

However, as Goudeseune explained, “Obesity is such a large issue that no single organization can solve it on its own. As such, continued collaborations with like-minded organizations will be critical for ACE in ensuring that our mutual goal of eradicating the obesity epidemic is met by 2035.”

So, we’ve made significant progress in figuring out how to live healthier lives and how we might eventually end obesity, but what about health and fitness are we still trying to make more sense of?

“Based on a review of evidence from randomized controlled studies, lifestyle interventions — diet, physical activity and other health lifestyle behaviors — aimed at promoting weight loss or preventing weight gain are generally effective,” Goudeseune said. “The challenge is how to get more individuals to adopt and maintain the behaviors that available research indicates work for the vast majority of people.”

It’s not that we don’t know what works, basically, it’s just that changing our habits isn’t easy to do. Goudeseune explained that this is one of the main reasons ACE has focused on developing certifications (like the Health Coach and Behavior Change Specialist certifications) that teach industry professions “lifestyle coaching” techniques.

Finally, with all his long-term experience in the health and fitness industry, we wanted to know if Goudeseune felt he had pinpointed what he felt are the “most important” habits for living a healthy life.

“There are a lot of different elements and degrees of health out there and every person is unique and different when it comes to that,” he explained.

For that reason, he said, narrowing health down to just a few simple elements that work for everyone is probably not possible.

We agree. “Healthy” looks and feels different for everyone.

That said, Goudeseune did point out the American Heart Association’s list of seven small steps anyone can use to improve their health.

“‘Life’s Simple 7’ is designed with the goal of educating the public on how to live their best, healthiest lives,” he explained.

Those steps include:

♦ Managing your blood pressure

♦ Controlling your cholesterol

♦ Reducing your blood sugar

♦ Getting active

♦ Eating better

♦ Losing weight

♦ Quitting a smoking habit

“Lastly,” Goudeseune added. “It’s also very important that every person has a larger purpose for being healthy—as that will help serve as the driving motivation for all of the health-related decisions they’ll make along their personal journeys to wellness.”

More Reading:
Myths About Weight Loss, And What Science Really Says
The Massive Fitness Trend That's Not Actually Healthy at All
Strength, Happiness and 9 Other Exercise Benefits that are Better than Weight Loss