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Work Your Legs to Boost Your Brain!

The old adage “healthy body, healthy mind” has been around for decades, and anyone who gets regular exercise can attest to its positive mental health benefits. Now, as researchers make new inroads into brain health, we are beginning to understand the specific mechanisms by which the human brain is improved by exercise. In particular, weight bearing exercise that overloads the large muscles of the legs appears to have multiple benefits for cognitive health. 

How Leg Work Promotes Brain Health

Exercise influences brain health in several ways, promoting improved cognitive function while rejuvenating both muscle and brain tissue. Failure to perform load-bearing exercises causes you to lose muscle mass, and affects your body chemistry in such a way that your brain and nervous system begin to deteriorate.  In fact, neurological health depends on signals from your large leg muscles just as much as movement depends on signals from your brain to your muscles.

Some specific ways brain function is affected by load bearing exercise include:

  • Weight-bearing exercise sends signals to your brain that are vital for the production of healthy nerve cells, the building blocks that enable you to manage stress and adapt to challenges. 
  • Exercise boosts brain-derived neurotrophic factor, responsible for rejuvenating both muscle and brain tissue.
  • Failure to exercise against the force of gravity negatively affects a gene called CDK5Rap1, which plays an important role in cell mitochondrial health and function. Well-functioning mitochondria are essential for optimal health. In fact, mitochondrial dysfunction is a root cause of chronic disease, including the degeneration of your brain and nervous system.
  • Exercise promotes the production of a protein called FNDC5, which in turn triggers the production of BDNF, a rejuvenator for both brain and muscle. BDNF helps preserve brain cells, and activates brainstem cells to generate new neurons. BDNF also promotes brain growth in the hippocampus region, which is associated with memory.
  • Load-bearing exercise increases the flow of oxygen to your brain, which in turn improves brain function.
  • Leg exercise reduces the amount of damaging brain plaques, and changes the way damaging proteins are situated in your brain, slowing the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Exercise normalizes your circulating  insulin levels, lowering your risk for diabetes, which is linked to a 65 percent increased risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. 
  • Load bearing exercise lowers systemic inflammation, which is linked to metabolic disease and cognitive decline.
  • Exercise boosts endorphins and serotonin production, elevating your mood and promoting productive sleep. It also lowers stress chemicals that have been linked to weight gain and heart disease.

The Brain Health-Fitness Connection

Any fitness professional worth their salt recognizes that fitness is largely a mind game. Motivation, perseverance, and focus are all mental resources that are needed to overcome discomfort in order to attain fitness goals. As your clients’ bodies become stronger and healthier, so do their brains, and so does their capacity to overcome mental obstacles, to get to the next level of fitness. 

Digging Deep for Professional Growth

Research studies are continually digging deeper to understand the underlying mechanisms that affect our minds and bodies. As a fitness professional, you owe it to yourself to stay abreast of the latest research, so you can apply your knowledge and grow your business. W.I.T.S. is working for you daily to provide the latest information for professional development. To learn more about how exercise affects mental health, sign up for the online course, “Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention and Intervention,” provided in collaboration with our partners at the Med Fit Education Foundation.

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When to Use Participant Registration Forms

Fitness is a people business, and getting groups of participants together for activities provides fun and motivation. But any type of physical activity has inherent risks, and gathering information about your participants prior to an activity or event is a responsible way to reduce your liability and ensure the safety of one and all.

A Participant Registration Form provides important information that you may need to screen and protect participants. It typically asks for the following data:

  • Contact information like name, address, phone and email
  • Name and phone number of an emergency contact
  • Participant’s age and date of birth
  • Participant’s medical history
  • Allergies and dietary restrictions
  • Activity-related information such as level of skill or expertise
  • Participant’s insurance information
  • Current date and signature

Information provided on Participant Registration Forms may also provide useful leads for membership drives or future events. 

Situations Where a Participant Registration Form is Used

A Participant Registration Form is unique from a waiver of liability or a health history questionnaire, although they may contain some of the same information. You may not need a new form for every event or activity you sponsor, but there are several cases where a Participant Registration form is needed, including:

  • Outings and field trips
  • Competitions
  • Sports events
  • Trial memberships
  • Workshops and conferences
  • Children’s activities
  • Seminars
  • Fitness assessments
  • Outdoor bootcamps
  • Special group classes or activities

If you are unsure if a particular activity warrants a Participant Registration Form, it is better to err on the side of caution. 

How to Use Provided Information

It is not uncommon for an organization or company to collect completed Participant Registration Forms and set them aside, unread. This can become a serious issue, especially with new participants. For example, failure to make note of a food allergy can result in a hospital visit or worse, making you liable for negligence.

Prior to beginning an activity, carefully review all participant information, and ask for clarification or additional information when appropriate. Make note of participants who may be at a higher level of risk, and keep a close eye on them. 

Also bear in mind that participants do not always disclose personal information, and they may be reluctant to share personal medical or other details. In such cases, a date and signature may help reduce your liability if an issue concerning unshared information arises. When collecting completed forms, check to see that they have been signed and appropriately dated.

For a sample Participant Registration Form, click here.


An important part of conducting a fitness-related business is protecting participants from injury or harm while minimizing your liability for mishaps. Learning more about the business side of fitness can help you successfully navigate legal and operational issues to reduce liability and optimize revenue. The W.I.T.S. Fitness Management certification course provides you with everything you need to know about operating a fitness business. You may also enjoy segments from the certification course, listed as continuing education courses, including Programming Essentials for Member Retention, Human Resources and Staffing, Facility Setup and Design, Attracting Club Members and Retaining Club Members. 



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He Said She Said: Why you need witness statements after an incident at your gym or studio

No matter how carefully you monitor your gym members, clients or group exercise participants, accidents do happen, making your facility vulnerable to lawsuits and negative PR. One way to mitigate the damage to your business after an incident is to gather eyewitness reports that paint a picture of what actually happened. Without witness statements, it comes down to the injured party’s word against yours, and a personal injury lawyer will try to get the highest possible payout for their client. 

Use Only Credible Witnesses

Even if you manage to identify one or more witnesses to an incident, it is important to make sure your witnesses are credible. A witness who lacks credibility can actually do more harm than good to your case. 

Some questions to ask before requesting a witness statement include:

  • Did the witness actually see the incident, or did they just hear it, or enter the scene after the incident occurred?
  • Did the witness see the entire incident from start to finish, or did they just hear about it from someone else?
  • What was the witness doing, and where were they standing at the time the incident occurred?
  • Is the witness’s vision, hearing and memory reliable?
  • Is the witness known to be honest and respectable?
  • Does the witness have any personal or financial interest in the claim?

Generally, if a witness statement is used in court, the witness must be willing to show up in person and give their testimony of what they saw. It is important to gather as many credible witnesses as possible, since some may be reluctant to testify.

Important Witness Statement Details

Remember that witness statements can be used against you, so be careful to ask for specific information that gives a realistic and truthful picture of what occurred. 

Some important details to include in a witness statement are:

  • Name, age and role (e.g. gym member, class participant, instructor, trainer, front desk staff, client).
  • Date and time the incident occurred. Try to be as specific as possible.
  • Accurate details about the location where the incident occurred. For example, “In the locker room, near the showers.”
  • Accurate description of what happened and the names of those involved, including staff and members/participants.
  • A factual account of what was seen/heard. Do not speculate about what happened, or give opinions about why you think the incident occurred. 
  • How was the incident responded to by staff or other members? Were emergency services contacted? Was first aid given?
  • Date and time the witness statement was completed. Ideally, you want to get witness statements as soon as possible after the incident occurred. Statements taken after several hours or days may hold less weight in court. 

Know Your Rights and Responsibilities

As a business owner, it is in your best interest to understand your legal rights and responsibilities when incidents occur, and to educate your staff on how to respond. You can learn more about legal issues through any of the W.I.T.S. Certification programs, like Personal Fitness Trainer, Group Exercise Instructor, Older Adult Fitness Specialist, or Fitness Management.

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Are Changes to the Cervical Spine Inevitable as We Age?

Complaints of back pain are common among adults, and a stooped posture with rounded shoulders and a forward-jutting head is one of the markers of advancing age. Yet much of the research on spinal integrity and degeneration neglects to examine lifestyle factors that influence spinal alignment, musculature and bone mineral density. When it comes to upper spinal alignment and degeneration, there are multiple factors that contribute to changes in the cervical spine.

Factors that support cervical spinal health include:

  • Good postural habits
  • Regular physical activity
  • Weight bearing exercise
  • Balanced nutrition
  • Good sleep hygiene
  • Proper movement mechanics

Sadly, most people do not pay attention to spinal health until they experience pain, and by then there is often irreparable damage that cannot be corrected, only managed.

What New Research Says About Cervical Spine Degeneration and Symptoms

A recent longitudinal study by Daimon et al. (2018) examined changes in cervical spinal health in 193 subjects over a 20 year span, from 1996 to 2016. The research team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify spinal degeneration. Patients were also questioned about the presence or absence of cervical spine-related symptoms.

The study revealed that 95 percent of the study participants experienced some degree of degenerative changes in the cervical spine over the 20 year period. Interestingly, the research team found no relationship between the patients’ reported clinical symptoms and spinal degeneration, except in the case of foraminal stenosis and upper-limb pain.

While this study appears to indicate that degeneration of the cervical spine is common and inevitable, the study does not attempt to identify contributing factors to spinal degeneration. A full 5 percent of the study participants exhibited no changes to the cervical spine over the 20 year period, leading to the question of why those individuals maintained a healthy spine while others did not.

Why Spinal Health Matters, and What You Can Do About It

The bones of your spine house and protect your central nervous system as it descends from your brain to the peripheral regions of your body. As the spine degenerates, nerves become vulnerable to outside forces, leading to damage, pain and dysfunction. Moreover, your spinal alignment is governed by your muscles. Too tight, weakened or too lax muscles can affect overall spinal health, and can lead to postural issues, neuromuscular problems, and faulty movement mechanics.

A healthy spine is foundational to overall physical performance, and reduces the risk of pain, falls and injuries as you age. Good spinal alignment makes you appear more youthful, and promotes healthy function of your vital organs. Over time, muscles tend to become imbalanced, pulling your spine out of alignment. Even elite athletes can develop muscular imbalances, because most sports do not recruit the muscles in a symmetrical way.

You can take measures to improve your body alignment, optimize muscle tension and promote long-term spinal health today. A physical therapist can help to identify spinal misalignment, postural defects and imbalances in muscle tension. Most people can benefit from gait analysis and retraining, and from training programs designed to correct poor posture and faulty movement mechanics.


As sports and fitness become more competitive and demanding, W.I.T.S.  is keeping pace with continuing education that keeps you in the know. As a fitness professional, you need to stay a step ahead of your clients and competitors if you want to be recognized as a top fitness service provider. Lay the foundation with a certification, like Personal Fitness Trainer or Older Adult Fitness Specialist. Then, get valuable renewal credits while you hone your skills with courses like Conditioning for Football or Fundamentals of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Don’t let your competitors leave you in the dust. Take the lead by staying in step with the latest trends and research in fitness with W.I.T.S.


Daimon, Kenshi, et al. “A 20-year Prospective Longitudinal Study of Degeneration of the Cervical Spine in a Volunteer Cohort Assessed Using Mri: Follow-up of a Cross-sectional Study.” JBJS 100.10 (2018): 843-849.

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Safety First: Why Holding Staff Safety Meetings Should be a Priority in Your Fitness Facility

No matter how much insurance coverage you buy for your fitness facility, an accident on site can cost you a fortune, whether it is settled or goes to court. Besides the direct costs in terms of out-of-pocket payouts and increased premiums, safety issues can tarnish your business reputation and hurt your bottom line. 

It is not enough to have your safety procedures clearly outlined in a staff manual, kept at the front desk. Most employees will only see it during their initial training, if at all. By holding regular safety meetings, or at least including a segment on safety issues at monthly staff meetings, you can keep your staff cognizant of potential issues, and remind them of their roles in keeping your facility a safe place to exercise. 

Topics for your monthly safety meetings might include:

  • Incidents, accidents and injuries: Cover any recent incidents or injuries, regardless of how minor, and brainstorm about what can be done in the future to avoid a recurrence. Discuss any changes that have already been made, and update the staff on any policy or procedural changes. 
  • Safety inspection results: Review results from recent safety inspections, and discuss any identified hazards, and what is being done about them. Encourage staff members to report potential hazards or unsafe conditions, and assign tasks to control them. 
  • Training: Discuss any new safety procedures that have been implemented. Review the correct operation of new equipment, including how to adjust it for individual users, and any special instruction for safe use from the manufacturer. Review basic emergency response protocols, and present a safety topic of the month. 
  • Open forum: Encourage staff to share any safety concerns they have, and ask for suggested solutions. 

Training Smarter with W.I.T.S.

Many fitness education companies equip you with just enough knowledge to obtain a certification, then leave you hanging. At W.I.T.S., we know that certification is only the first step in what will hopefully become a gratifying life-long fitness career. That’s why we offer continuing education on topics that directly impact your bottom line. Check out our Online Business Management Success series to gain insight into running a facility and making it prosper. Keep up to date with our informative monthly webinars, and keep your certification current with our continuing education bundles. 

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The Informed Consent/Release Form: What is it, and why do you need it?

As fitness professionals, we know that the health benefits of physical fitness far outweigh the risks inherent in participating in physical activities. Nevertheless, those risks do exist, especially when working with overweight, out of shape clients who may also have pre-existing medical conditions. Despite your best efforts to protect your clients from injury, incidents do occur, and it is important to have documentation that mitigates your liability, and that of your facility. 

The Informed Consent/Release form is intended to inform your client of the potential risks of exercise, and of their responsibility for their own actions. It is also designed to minimize your liability if an incident or injury should occur. While not required by law, having the completed and signed form on file for each and every client can protect you if a lawsuit is filed following an incident. 

Elements of Liability

An Informed Consent/Release form will not protect you from being sued, but it will provide documentation that reduces your share of liability. In a negligence lawsuit, there are four elements to be considered:

  1. Duty: The defendant (in this case you) was legally responsible to protect your client from injury.
  2. Breach: The defendant either acted in a way that caused injury, or failed to act in a way to prevent it, breaching their duty.
  3. Causation: The defendant’s action or inaction caused the plaintiff’s (client’s) injury. 
  4. Damages: The plaintiff was injured or damaged as a direct result of the defendant’s actions.

As fitness professionals, we are obligated to protect our clients from injury or harm, while simultaneously helping them to get results. That poses a conundrum of sorts. Since fitness improves as a direct result of overload, we must push our clients beyond their comfort zone to get results, yet doing so increases their risk of injury. 

How Informed Consent/Release Protects You

Statistically, people who exercise under the supervision of a trainer or instructor are less likely to get injured. However, should an injury or other incident occur (a heart attack, for example), you may find yourself targeted by a lawsuit. Having your documents in order increases your appearance of professionalism and demonstrates that you take your job seriously. 

A detailed Informed Consent/Release form should include the following elements:

  • A statement of release of liability
  • A detailed description of the fitness professional’s duties
  • A detailed description of potential risks
  • The specific responsibilities of the client or participant
  • The client’s contact information, signature and date

A signed Informed/Consent Release form provides your attorney with a legal tool to argue in your favor. It may protect you from having to pay expensive damages, and could even save your job and career. If you have liability insurance (which you should), the Informed Consent/Release form can reduce the amount your insurance company has to pay, and can keep your premium costs low. 

It is a good idea to renew the Informed Consent/Release periodically. You may want to do so each time a client purchases a new package of sessions, or at least once a year, on the anniversary of their initial contract. You should also have a current physician’s release form on file when appropriate, along with a behavior contract, detailed session records and progress reports. Keeping your documents in order for each client shows that you are a responsible fitness professional.


As sports and fitness become more competitive and demanding, W.I.T.S.  is keeping pace with continuing education that keeps you in the know. As a fitness professional, you need to stay a step ahead of your clients and competitors if you want to be recognized as a top fitness service provider. Lay the foundation with a certification as Personal Fitness Trainer, Group Exercise Instructor or Fitness Manager. Then, get valuable renewal credits while you hone your skills with courses like Business Success for Fitness Professionals. Don’t let your competitors leave you in the dust. Take the lead by staying in step with the latest trends and research in fitness with W.I.T.S.

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Working with Special Pops COPD Clients

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, commonly called COPD, is a lung disorder brought on by years of smoking, or by ongoing exposure to harmful environmental toxins that permanently damage lung tissue. The result is obstructed airflow that makes it difficult to breathe, and limits the amount of available oxygen to satisfy cellular needs throughout the body.  (more…)

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What You Need to Know About Working as an Independent Fitness Contractor

Helping people reach their fitness goals can be gratifying and rewarding, but if your fitness job doesn’t pay the bills, you may find yourself looking for a “real” job. One solution for many fitness professionals who want to make fitness a lifelong career is to work as an independent contractor. As such, you have more control over your schedule and rates, and total autonomy when it comes to making business decisions. (more…)

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Member Down! Is Your Staff Ready to Handle an On-Site Emergency?

Days, weeks and months can go by in your gym or fitness studio without a single incident or injury requiring staff intervention. In fact, incidents in the gym or studio environment are rare, despite scores of unqualified members operating moving machinery and lifting heavy objects. However, you cannot afford to allow your staff to become desensitized to the potential perils of exercise and its inherent risks of injury. Doing so could lead to a lawsuit that could be expensive or even cost you your business. (more…)

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Community Building with Special Populations: Change Your Business Model to Grow Your Bottom Line

Many fitness facilities, whether large box gyms, small mom-and-pops, or even community centers, run on an archaic business model whose foundation has begun to crumble in the 21st Century. Gone are the days of bait and switch advertising, coercive sales tactics and tepid customer service.

Even used car dealership are beginning to realize that relationship-building and over-the-top service go much farther than old-school tactics in building a loyal customer base that brings in new and repeat business. And employees fare better as well, as cut-throat competition among sales staff is phased out in favor of a collaborative team approach. (more…)