// Perspective - Phillip Mills

Perspective features the opinions of prominent figures in the fitness industry. Here, Phillip Mills, Australian Fitness Network's 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award winner and founder of the Les Mills group exercise system, reflects on his time in the industry and advocates taking the next step to develop into a preventative, holistic health system.

When I started out in fitness in the '60s, working after school in my parents' gym, ours was a tiny industry. Less than one per cent of the adult population belonged to fitness clubs. Since then, we have been part of a gigantic social change. More adults now go to the world's health clubs than play golf, tennis and soccer combined. In fact, health club attendance could be called the biggest adult 'sport' in the world.

Over the last few decades, the fitness industry has also benefited from a number of sociological trends, including feminism, increased time pressure (people nowadays work a third more hours than they did in the '60s), the sexual revolution and fashion trends that have amplified people's body consciousness. On top of the need for alternative social hubs to replace the church and the corner pub, in recent times there has also been a growing awareness of the catastrophic health risks of inactivity and poor eating habits.

As these trends have evolved, so too have our industry's health clubs. But have we fully capitalised on what has been put before us? Moreover, are we fulfilling the obligations that accompany our social role?

From my experience working with thousands of clubs around the world, I believe there is still a wonderful opportunity for us out there. An opportunity for us to be more than just gyms where people come to pump iron and run on a treadmill. An opportunity to become true health clubs, where people fall in love with fitness, form deep friendships and learn a healthier way of life.

The details of the opportunity lie in areas ranging from more creative club design to more social programming of exercise (and other activities); from better management metrics to a more holistic approach to health, from 'exertainment' to education.
I feel that if we do not grasp this chance for change, our industry's future will come under increasing threat. Without change, it's highly likely that our fickle public will be wooed away by evolving alternatives in home exercise, online communities, exer-gaming, medical technology, new sports and leisure activities, or at least by those within our own industry who do see the opportunity and seize the day.

Outside of the threat to our businesses and our industry, our society is faced with unprecedented health challenges. These stem from sedentary lifestyles, modern diet and the growing presence of environmental pollutants in our air, our water, our soil and the food we eat.

As the antithesis of the tobacco and junk food industries and others poisoning the ecosystem, the fitness industry has the ability to educate and influence the huge percentage of the world's wealthiest people with whom we have an intimate relationship, and to create a healthier world. We have the potential to create a preventative, holistic health system that is far more affordable and sustainable than the present one. We have the ability to grow our industry and become a powerful political lobby for change.

I believe the people working in this business – that's you – are the most well-intentioned group on the planet. If we act on that, we will not only create a great future for our industry, but also make the world a better place.

Here's to a fitter planet.

Phillip Mills
A fitness industry pioneer, Phillip is the founder and president of Les Mills International (LMI), whose exercise-to-music programs are in thousands of fitness facilities worldwide. A driving force behind the modern group fitness experience, he also developed the Group Fitness Management system. He is a past winner of the Ernst & Young New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year award, and with his wife Dr Jackie Mills co-wrote the book
Fighting Globesity – A Practical Guide to Personal Health and Global Sustainability.