Fitness Industry Roundup: Technological Advances in Inclusivity

There’s been a big step in technology for sports fans who are blind or visually impaired. Plus, governments are taking action—or being called upon—to promote physical and mental health.

Even if I said it before, I’ll gladly say it again—I’m so amazed by the things technology can do. This week’s first story is a huge step in the right direction to expand accessibility for sports fans who are blind or visually impaired.

Afterwards, we share the news of the appointees of California’s first physical and mental health advisory council and ukactive’s call to action for local governments. Plus, discover a new gym concept that perfectly—and accidentally—fits the COVID-19 mold, and read about yet another study that proves exercise greatly reduces the risk of developing anxiety.

Now, I hope you enjoy learning about the new inclusive technology as much as I did!

Australian Open Tests Action Audio to be More Inclusive of Blind Viewers

For the first time, Action Audio—technology that turns data into 3-D sound—was tested on a large scale to Australian Open viewers. The New York Times reports that this accessibility feature is meant to help those who are blind or have limited vision to follow the match. Designed in partnership with Tennis Australia, Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and AKQA, a digital design and communications agency, in 2019, Action Audio notifies listeners of:

  • How close the ball is to the sideline or baseline,

  • Which side of the court the ball was played on,

  • When a player strikes the ball, and

  • How the ball was hit—backhand or forehand.

The video below is a sample of Action Audio, provided by AKQA.

To develop the technology, AKQA and Tennis Australia first asked tennis fans what they found most interesting about the game and then surveyed those who are blind to learn which sounds worked best. Although there are kinks that need to be worked out—such as making the Action Audio site fully compatible with screen-reader technology—the concept is already improving fan experiences. “Everything is like, oh, yes, this is the final piece that I’m missing,” said Michael Marshall, an avid tennis fan who is blind. “It gives you those cues that you never really had before.”

Read more about Action Audio.

Members Appointed to California Physical Fitness and Mental Well-Being Council

A press release from California Governor Gavin Newsom reports that 15 members have been appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Council on Physical Fitness and Mental Well-Being. The Council was announced last July with an overall goal to explore strategies to promote health and wellness among Californians of all ages with an emphasis on youth resources. Newsom said, “The pandemic has placed a spotlight on the importance of physical and mental health. We are committed to elevating healthy dietary and fitness habits, and mental well-being, to help build a healthier, more resilient California for all.”

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The Advisory Council includes IHRSA Member Francesca Schuler, president and co-founder of the California Fitness Alliance. She is hopeful that the council will help bridge the gap so that the fitness industry is seen as a healthcare solution and that other states establish similar institutes to focus on promoting physical and mental health and wellness. Representatives have professional backgrounds in health and wellness organizations, youth sports programs, education, the entertainment and fitness industry, and more areas of physical and mental health.

Find the full press release here.

ukactive Calls on Government to Develop & Grow Social Prescribing

The health and fitness industry has a critical role to play in improving population health and well-being—social prescribing is a vital piece of the puzzle. According to ukactive, social prescribing connects people to community support based on what interests them—e.g., walking, dancing, gardening—and helps address issues affecting their health and well-being. To drive action and support for social prescribing, ukactive released its new report, Leading the Change: social prescribing within the fitness and leisure sector, sponsored by Matrix, an IHRSA Partner. James Sanderson, CEO of the National Academy of Social Prescribing, said, “Physical activity is often described as a ‘wonder drug’ because of the wide range of health conditions it can help prevent or treat. But for many of us, there are barriers to participating in sport or fitness activities – and that’s where social prescribing can make a real difference.” The report includes findings from consultations and four key recommendations to develop and grow social prescribing to further support health in community settings.

Download the full report.

San Francisco Gym Concept Inspired by Barber Shop Model

The Yard, a two-story 3,500-square-foot fitness facility, in San Francisco, CA, is attracting COVID-weary patrons with its pod concept. With a total of eight pods and a 1,000-square-foot turf area, each space can be rented out for exclusive hourly use by trainers or consumers. Contrary to typical health clubs and gyms that hold hundreds or even thousands of patrons, The Yard holds up to 16 people at a time. Owner Joe Cicero told CBS SF Bay Area that he came up with the idea prior to the pandemic. “It’s actually inspired by the traditional barber shop model where the owner is renting out chairs to independent contractors. That’s what we’re doing here with independent personal trainers,” he said. “And I frankly think you’ll start to see more and more gyms shift to a model like this.” Each pod at The Yard includes:

  • Rack and platform,

  • Olympic barbell,

  • Hex bars,

  • Adjustable dumbbell block (up to 90 lbs),

  • Resistance bands and chains, and more.

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Source: The Yard

Learn more about The Yard.

Study Finds Aerobic Exercisers Less Likely to Develop Anxiety

As reported by The New York Times, a large-scale study that was published in Frontiers in Psychiatry found that over time, physical activity cuts the risk of developing clinical anxiety in half. The study followed upwards of 200,000 cross-country skiers over the course of 20 years. Findings prove that the skiers were considerably calmer than non-active study participants at almost any age, and aerobic activity of any kind likely helps protect us against excessive worry and dread. “The link between exercise and reduced anxiety is strong,” said Lena Brundin, one of the study authors and a lead investigator of neurodegenerative diseases at the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, MI. “It is not necessary to complete extreme exercise to achieve the beneficial effects on anxiety.”

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Read the article.

Has your health or fitness-related business been featured in the news recently? We want to know! Send a link to any news article or video that highlighted your business to, and we may include it in a future issue of the Fitness Industry Roundup.

Author avatar

Sami Smith

Sami Smith is IHRSA's Senior Manager of Digital Communications, working to shape the organization's image on various digital platforms. On a typical day, she creates content, delivers impactful communications, and executes targeted marketing efforts to keep IHRSA at the forefront of the industry. Outside of the office, you can find her exploring new destinations, indulging in food, or participating in just about any sport.