People are facing increasing pressure to achieve levels of perfection in the way they look, causing one in five UK adults to worry about their body image, according to new research from the Mental Health Foundation.
It’s important the health and fitness sector is mindful of how new technology and initiatives are delivered, to ensure we operate responsibly in relation to this challenge.
Many people join a gym or health club to get results. To understand if these have been achieved, you need to start the process with some form of measurement and continue this throughout the journey.
What we still see in many health and fitness facilities is operators using well established methods to predict fat mass, such as callipers to measure skin folds. While popular, the accuracy of measures from such devices depends on the skill of the person doing the test.
Thanks to fit-tech and advancements in this area we no longer need to rely on manual methods. With just a touch of a button, fitness professionals can offer the end user (and their health and fitness professional) powerful visuals as well as a set of accurate measurements.
Chris Rock from Excelsior says: “For clients that are confident enough to be analysed, body scanning allows for a detailed assessment that provides an initial benchmark. These can be consistently repeated to provide ongoing biometrics, which can be a real motivator to the client, if the results are moving in the right direction!
When it comes to mental health, Rock says:“Even a less than favourable result can be turned into a positive if the client is suitably directed or redirected to modify their behaviour or routine accordingly.”
Rock continues: “Since body scanning allows for numerical values to be generated, and in some cases, a visual representation created, both the client’s logical and emotional needs are more likely to be satisfied, giving better results.
“This combination of measuring body composition in numbers and pictures can be reassuring for clients, particularly if the number on the scale isn’t changing because their body fat is lowering, while their muscle mass is increasing.
“If the assessment method is simply using the scales or taking photographs or using their reflection in the mirror, the client may not gain a true insight into the changes their body is making. Lack of understanding leads to lack of action.”
Phillip Middleton, founder and MD of Derwent says: “Some unhealthy diet and exercise behaviours stem from people having a distorted body image. By using technology to accurately measure body composition we can inform and educate people about their internal body make-up and devise exercise routines to assist them in reaching more reasonable goals, linked to a more healthy lifestyle.
“People join gyms because they want to change their bodies. Surely, we should be in a position to help them achieve this through education and realistic target setting? We can only do this if we have accurate information about their body composition to start with.”
Tracy Morrell, sales director for Styku Europe says: “I find trainers arguing over fat mass percentages, with different methods producing varying results which can be poles apart – all while the member is caught in the middle confused and, at times, demoralised.
“Overall, we focus too much on the numbers. What the industry needs is something that is repeatable – that can show real change – and is visual.
“Styku’s 3D body scanner doesn’t focus on weight, but highlights change. What matters most is measuring this and to do that you need a device that offers repeatable measurements with precision.”
Morrell talks about delivering Styku scans in health clubs across the world: “Used in the right way, having a 3D bodyscan can be a very humbling and motivational process which opens up an honest conversation with the client.
“They see a 3D version of themselves – in all its glory – and for some, this can be troubling but also the incentive they need to get healthy. At this point, it’s over to the PT or fitness professional to lead the conversation and turn any negative emotion and any negative body image connotations into positive motivation that can be channelled by the user to reach their goals.”
Regardless of the technology used, carrying out body scans does require a level of education, knowledge and skill from PTs and fitness professionals. When interpreting these results, it’s never been so vital for PTs to use their emotional intelligence to navigate the feelings and emotions of their members or clients in order to successfully guide them on their individual journeys.
As fitness professionals, they have a duty of care to understand how to interpret possible psychological warning signs that a client may present and in turn know how to offer expert support and adapt a training programme to meet their needs and deter them from fad diets.
Rob Thurston, UK country manager at Inbody says: “With the most recent advances in BIA Body Composition Testing (bioelectrical impedance analysis), the latest technology in devices such as the InBody can give fitness facilities clinical grade testing accuracy, along with a much wider range of body composition data that goes far beyond how much someone’s body fat percentage is and whether that is within the ‘normal range’.
“With direct segmental measurement, alongside body fat measurement, clients can now see a range of health-related information such as visceral fat level (which is correlated with type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease) and muscular imbalance between the left and right limbs or the upper and lower body.
“They can also see localised oedema (swelling) or hydration status, bone mineral levels, basal metabolic rate based on lean muscle mass and Phase Angle score to indicate cell membrane health and nutrition status,” says Thurston.
Morrell continues: “The conversation around fitness and goal setting needs to shift away from body weight and look at overall feelings and results the user can see. When people refer to losing body weight, they often mean losing body fat, which is something completely different. A person can lose inches around their waist but not see much change in the number on the weight scale as they lose fat but gain lean muscle.
“Muscle is approximately 20 per cent denser than fat, so takes up less room. The beauty of a body scan is that it shows what a set of scales can’t: how a person’s shape is changing over time, which can lead to an increase in body positivity from knowing that progress is being made and the hard hours of sweating in the gym have been worth it.
“Body weight is not an accurate reflection of physical condition or fitness levels, so we need to educate health and fitness professionals on how to leverage this kind of fit-tech in order to empower exercisers to feel good about themselves.”
Thurston agrees: “These results and outputs provide the opportunity for the fitness professional to look beyond body image and ‘aesthetics’ and discuss a more rounded approach to body composition, with guidelines to improve overall health, nutrition and functionality.”
Education and interpretation
There is a need to move towards a more evidence-based approach, which prescribes health and wellness (including exercise) as a more holistic state of being where physical, mental and emotional health are all part of the same puzzle, reflected in the services the fit-tech sector and operators provide. With the right education, support and guidance, we can create positive environments, which help people to find and strengthen their intrinsic exercise motivation – leading to healthy, long-term lifestyle behaviours that do not create body image issues.
Morrell adds: “When we work with PTs and gym owners, we spend a great deal of time talking and exploring how to translate the findings into meaningful plans that can deliver results and promote self-esteem. We avoid promoting body dissatisfaction as a motive for change, but, instead, we market and promote investing in overall health as a way to enhance body image, this is particularly important as we move towards a more wellness-based industry – driven largely by millennials.”
Eric G Peake, managing director (north) from Healthcheck Services says: “The term ‘body image’ is how we perceive ourselves physically, and how we believe others to see us. People spend millions of pounds a year on the latest fad diets, but being thin doesn’t necessarily equate to being healthy.
“The CoreVue body composition kiosk gives you an in-depth look into what’s going on inside your body, so people are slowly starting to ditch the quick fix methods and using these machines as a tool to set achievable goals. They soon find that by being able to physically track their results, they’re automatically improving their body image in a positive way, while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
Coming at a time when exercisers, particularly the younger age groups, notably millennials and Gen Z, see wellness as a focus of everyday life and something they’re prepared to spend on, fit-tech is going to become more important to meet their demands. In fact, according to research company Forrester, 69 per cent of all fitness wearable owners come from one of those two age groups. That’s why pioneering technology is set to play such a key role in providing the insights that health and fitness operators need to satisfy this new breed of members and support them on their individual paths to improve overall wellness.
While there’s a clear gear change taking place within the industry, the future looks exciting, as fit-tech is constantly evolving to provide us with tools and insights that, previously, we could only dream of. But, as the saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility,” so it’s vital that we ensure PTs and fitness professionals receive the right education, allowing them to support and empower members and clients, enabling them to appreciate the results they’re achieving and build a positive self-image.