On Friday 5th November, EuropeActive hosted virtually the 12th annual International Standards Meeting (ISM), the European flagship event for training providers, employers, practitioners and other key stakeholders involved in training and education. Under the theme ‘Transforming the fitness industry through Standards’ speakers and panelists explored how upskilling our industry's workforce and the use of digital technology can significantly impact the evolution and growth of the fitness and physical activity sector.

The ISM began with Director of Professional Standards Committee Julian Berriman welcoming participants and speakers. He underlined that "common, robust and quality assured Standards are a must if the sector is to be genuinely regarded by society and policy makers as an important support for public health policy. The sector must continue to develop a professionalised workforce and workplaces in order to promote and deliver safe and effective preventative health solutions. The ISM as a meeting of key stakeholders from the sector has great relevance in this process"

Sessions kicked-off with WHO Head of Unit for Physical Activity Fiona Bull providing invaluable insights on how the role of standards can help build a stronger system of physical activity provision: "Covid has become a catalyst to rethink and strengthen our professional workforce to continue to build and increase qualifications and skills of fitness and physical activity professionals so safe and effective programmes and services can be delivered. Robust, fit-for-purpose Standards are also going to be core in attracting and retaining professionals of the fitness and physical activity sector".

Prof. Dr. Willem van Mechelen took the audience through the European Initiative for Exercise in Medicine (EIEIM) and underscored that "people are getting older and are sicker due to unhealthy lifestyles. 50% of European population do not exercise, and only a meager 16% do the recommended amount of physical activity per week. We are heading towards an unsustainable situation for our healthcare systems that we need to face as soon as possible".

Reaching out to Health through Standards

The first panel of the day was moderated by Deputy Director for Standards Anna Szumilewicz and included panelists John van Heel (New Health Project) Dr. Anna Plucik- Mrożek (Exercise is Medicine Polska), Dr. Colin Robertson (Doctor of Physiology, Exercise & Nutrition Scientist) and Dr. Sebastià Mas Alòs (EUPAP Project Manager) to discuss how COVID-19 has accelerated the need for our sector to offer itself up as a preventative solution to offset the rise in chronic disease and the implications of this need for the on-going education and professionalisation of the fitness and physical activity workforce.

Leading with a presentation on how COVID-19 lockdowns have negatively impacted people's activity levels was Vojko Vuckovic from the University of Ljubljana. He took the audience through the mental health issues such as depression and anxiety people faced during these unprecedented times: "Physical activity is crucial in preventing depressive disorders and anxiety conditions as it is proven to have many beneficial effects on health. Research indicates that active people are nearly 45% less likely to have depressive symptoms than inactive people".

CEN Standards, a must-have for a professionalised fitness and physical activity sector

Following Mr Vuckovic presentation, moderator Jennifer Halsall from WIFA and panelists Cliff Collins (EuropeActive), Andy Brees (SportCity and Fit For Free) and Merel Wagner (NEN Group) discussed the key role Standards play on improving the overall business performance of clubs by sharing good practice and reducing risk to the millions of users and staff working in the clubs.

The session unveiled the work EuropeActive is doing with the Royal Netherlands Standardization Institute (NEN) and independent certification bodies to deliver FITcert.eu, a 5-stage scheme for fitness club certification using the EN 17229 standards. The scheme covers the essential management, operational and supervision requirements for all clubs as well as fitness trainer qualifications. 

Launched in Cologne at the European Health & Fitness Forum (EHFF), several hundred invited clubs from across Europe will take place in a trial to test the certification scheme which will be opened-up from April 2022. The standards and certification scheme have been developed by industry experts and aims to become the recognised quality mark of clubs. Panelists also agreed on the importance of CEN standards as a means of upskilling the workforce through the European Register of Exercise Professionals (EREPS).

The power of digital technologies for fitness professionals

The day culminated with Jennifer Halsall moderating a panel in which Dave Wright (Myzone), Fitness Coach Jo O’Connor and Stefan Tilk (FitTech Company) shared their views on whether fitness professionals currently have the knowledge and skills to work with digital solutions, particularly wearable technology.

Panelists agreed that "digital is an enabler for you to have that human connection with your client as it amplifies the connection. The more data you have about a client, the better you can help them". Digital tools such as wearables have enormous potential to support individuals in becoming more active and the collected data can be invaluable in monitoring and motivating those individuals on their on-going health journey.

Director of Professional Standards Committee Julian Berriman wrapped up the 12th International Standards Meeting by thanking participants and reinforcing the importance of “continuing to upskill our workforce and quality assure our workplaces through evidence-based Standards, as the very foundation for our sector's recognition, growth and prosperity".

Nov 8, 2021 By Carlos Fernandez