PCE furthers reach into medical fitness via exercise prescription software

PCE Fitness founder and president Pete Schenk hasn’t changed his goal of wanting to keep middle-aged folks healthy. This is apparent in his recent partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine’s 4-year-old “Exercise is Medicine” initiative, which has PCE making software for doctors to prescribe exercise. SNEWS talks to PCE about its goals and its future.

PCE Fitness has found its success targeting the 40- to 60-year-old consumer who wants to improve health via fitness. Notice the emphasis on “health.” Company founder and president Pete Schenk said his business isn’t all about selling equipment.

In keeping with his goal, Schenk recently partnered with the American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org) to develop an online program through which physicians can refer patients to local medical fitness center or to fitness professionals associated with the ACSM’S “Exercise is Medicine” program, which started in 2007 (click here to read the Nov. 5, 2007, SNEWS story). The goal of the program is to increase the number of medical fitness professionals who recommend patients have a way to exercise at home as well.

Note, too, the additional emphasis on “exercise at home.” This should lead to increased sales for specialty fitness retailers who carry the PCE Fitness’ LifeSpan brand (www.lifespanfitness.com), said Janet Brady, the director of medical programs, who is speaking at the Medical Fitness Association conference in Orlando Dec. 2, 2011. The annual conference also has a seminar for physicians on the Exercise is Medicine initiative (www.exerciseismedicine.org).

“Everyone should have a piece of exercise equipment in their home. We need to make exercise just as accessible as everyone’s televisions and computers,” Brady said. “This is the only way we are truly going to make an impact on reducing the incidence of chronic disease, obesity and our country’s out of control health care costs.”

Schenk developed the LifeSpan brand to help people through medical fitness because, he said, “A lot of the marketplace didn’t address the needs of the older adult or second-half-of-life adult,” Schenk said. He added, “We haven’t just been an exercise company, we really promote active living and exercise and fitness, whether that’s in the home, outdoors, in the gym, at work or wherever.”

Prescribing exercise at home

Schenk said the software development for the American College of Sports Medicine is still in the works, but the program will help physicians find high-risk patients PCE Fitness’ Interactive Health Partner-certified medical fitness centers.

The Interactive Health Partner is the medical fitness field’s version of the company's LifeSpan Fitness Club, which is software that tracks a user’s weight, blood pressure, exercise, waist circumference and health goals. Both pieces of software offer the user exercise programs that fit into their goals and are compatible with LifeSpan’s USB-enabled equipment and accessories, including a scale, blood pressure cuff and a brand-new pedometer with a USB port.

With both programs, there is an option to print out the tracked information for individuals to share with their doctors.

The American College of Sports Medicine sought the help of PCE Fitness because of its track record with both the Interactive Health Partner and the LifeSpan Fitness Club, said Richard Cotton, ACSM’s national director of certification.

The not-so-niche market

PCE Fitness was established in 1994 and more than 10 years later Schenk decided to go after the medical fitness market. In 2002 he introduced the LifeSpan brand to the market (click here to read the Nov. 18, 2005, SNEWS story about PCE’s shifting mission) and later announced plans to enter the medical fitness market.

Many retailers told Schenk they thought LifeSpan served a niche market, but Schenk didn’t -- and still doesn’t -- see it that way.

“If you talk about the fact that 67 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, and 37 million people are diabetic, you realize that the medical fitness side of exercise could serve a majority of Americans,” Schenk said. “If you’re targeting the 30-something professional, to us that’s much more of a niche than targeting people with an interest in increasing their lifespan, staying disease free or managing their disease.”

For the 2005 SNEWS story, Schenk said his plan was to launch the Interactive Health Partner into more medical fitness centers and hospitals, which proved successful. Because of confidentiality issues, Schenk couldn’t say what hospitals and medical centers he has partnered with, but he did say that the company aims to add about 1,000 new members to the Interactive Health Partner system every two weeks.

Finding success with consistency, accessories

LifeSpan Fitness doesn’t often launch brand-new equipment, Schenk told SNEWS at the Health and Fitness Business Expo in September. The treadmill desk brand recently introduced in November 2011 will probably be around for many years to come because the brand would rather focus on consistency and customer service.

This benefits both the retailers and the company, Schenk said. “I think it’s easier to maintain currency in your product literature and support documentation,” Schenk said. He added the consistency gives retailers an opportunity to better understand the product and makes it “easier to have a high level of customer service and consistency of quality when a piece has been around for a long time.”

Though the idea of a treadmill desk (photo, left) is not new (click here to read a July 2011 story about ways to stay active at work, including a competing product called TrekDesk), Schenk and Brady are both excited about the product. Brady noted that though nothing can replace the 2.5 hours of exercise the ACSM and the American Heart Association recommend people get per week, walking while working is much better for people than simply sitting all day.

“Getting someone off the couch and getting a piece of equipment in the home is so much better than doing nothing at all,” Brady said, adding that increasing sales of LifeSpan equipment for specialty retailers is a key goal of the Exercise is Medicine initiative.

Brady referenced a 2011 study University of Missouri study, which found people who spent a majority of their time sitting, even with regular periods of exercise, were still at greater risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes. Therefore moving throughout the day can help make people less susceptible to health problems. Click here to see an abstract of that article published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

With the launch of the Treadmill Desk (MSRP $1,999) this past November, Schenk continues to strive toward his goal of keeping older folks healthy.

“It’s really about helping people lead active, healthy lives which is something that inherently we all want to do,” Schenk said. “Some may give it more thought and action than others, but as people age, it’s something we all think about. If LifeSpan can be part of making that happen, then that’s a tremendously motivating opportunity.”

­–Ana Trujillo


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