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Health Club Management
2013 issue 6

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Leisure Management - Research databases

Everyone's talking about...

Research databases

The spa industry launched a research portal in 2011, making scientific research to support its practices easily accessible. Should the health and fitness industry follow suit?

Kath Hudson
A fitness research database could become a powerful health tool for users photo: www.shutterstock.com/Pressmaster

The spa industry pulled off quite an achievement when it created its research portal – www.spaevidence.com. The site re-badged four selected medical research engines under the spaevidence banner, creating one site that gives access to thousands of clinical studies into 21 of the most common spa and wellness modalities.

This was the first time much of this research was made available to the public. Users can decide on the depth they want to go into, either reading the full research document, or a summary of five research documents per therapy.

When the site was unveiled at the 2011 Global Spa Summit, its creators – Susie Ellis, Dr Kenneth Pelletier, Dr Daniel Friedland, Dr Marc Cohen and web developer Self Optima – were given a standing ovation. Much of the audience was in tears, as they felt their work had finally been given credence.

So should the fitness sector follow the lead of the spa industry? There’s certainly no shortage of research. If we did manage to create a research portal, might this be enough to persuade GPs to prescribe exercise to patients on a wider scale? Could this be the tool to persuade the sedentary population to take action?

Were such a project to go ahead, there would be several practical issues to address. Pulling it all together would be a lot of work: who would do this and who might fund it – might it be a candidate for crowd-funding? And who would govern it on an ongoing basis?

If it’s an industry project, will the public view it suspiciously – will it only work if the healthcare industry, or government, also has a role in its creation?

And if such a website were set up and proved successful, attracting new interest in fitness among the public, would we be ready with the support people might need to change their lifestyles? We ask the experts.....

Susie Ellis


Susie Ellis
Chair Global Spa and Wellness Summit

“I think the health and fitness industry should definitely follow the lead of the spa industry in creating a portal. We saw a need to communicate all of the evidenced-based research to consumers, the industry, the media and medical professionals. In doing so, we’ve given credence to the people working in the industry.

There have been many studies done, but finding them was not easy. Although it initially seemed like an insurmountable challenge, once we found the databases and worked out that we could pre-populate the searches on the site, we had overcome all of the major challenges. We selected PubMed because it’s readily available, Cochrane because it has a lot of credibility with doctors, TRIP because it’s user-friendly and Natural Standard because it had already curated a lot of information. This is the only database we pay an annual fee to use; the rest were happy to get the extra traffic to their sites.

Global Spa and Wellness Summit funded the portal, which cost around US$50,000 to set up: the figure would have been higher if the doctors hadn’t given their time for free. The portal now costs about US$10,000 a year to run. The way it has been set up means it gets regularly updated, as the databases are updated, so it’s simple to govern.”

Dr Daniel Friedland


Dr Daniel Friedland
CEO & president SuperSmartHealth

“T he health and fitness industry should follow our lead. The main aim of spaevidence.com is to help anchor the spa industry with a scientific foundation. The portal highlights science-based wellness choices and reinforces the efforts already being made by spa professionals to bring wellness to people.

There’s more work to be done – making the portal more accessible, for example, and continuing to educate not only practitioners but also health-seekers among the general public to leverage the evidence – but it’s a great first step.

Whereas the spa industry has multiple modalities to deal with, the health and fitness industry has a narrower scope. However, there’s so much research about exercise that to try and present it all would be almost impossible. The fitness industry would need to frame the key questions that the health-seeker might ask if they wanted to engage in a healthy regime. It would then need to look for the key databases and find a cost-effective way to collate, digest and present the evidence and keep the database updated. I fully advocate the health and fitness sector doing this. It would create transparency, giving wellness empowerment to the health-seeker and a powerful tool set to maintain their optimal health.”

Chris Beedie


Chris Beedie
Director ukactive Research Institute

chris beedie
ukactive Research Institute • Director
“Y es, the health and fitness industry should have a database of research. However, I think on a political and business level this is likely to be a non-starter. Beyond the immediate vast scope of the task from a scientific perspective, the biggest problems are those of who would host it and who would fund it. ukactive would be the obvious host, and the industry the obvious funder. However, the ‘industry’ is a nebulous entity, and there will be plenty of people unwilling to fund the project while being happy to benefit from it.
For a resource of this type to be truly effective, we do not need a portal to existing databases, but rather a regularly updated database of relevant research supported by expert commentaries. There also needs to be a clear distinction between useful and poor quality research.
At the ukactive Research Institute, we’re currently focusing on writing papers that synthesise published research in specific areas (for example, exercise and insulin sensitivity, exercise and lipid profile) – papers that also provide exercise prescription guidelines based on these syntheses. As a result of these processes, we anticipate that a useful research database will develop organically.”

Dr Lucy Goundry


Dr Lucy Goundry
Medical director, wellbeing Nuffield Health

“Creating a resource like this would be a huge step forward. As GPs, we’re trying our best to engage and educate people about the benefits of regular exercise. However, patients have to take responsibility themselves, so anything we can do to support them is fantastic.

For this to gain the support of the medical industry, it would need to be peer-reviewed medical evidence and be carefully monitored by a clinical expert. Assuming the content was evidence-based, I think both patients and GPs would use it. To gain credibility, either the NHS or a not-for-profit healthcare charity partnership should support the project, rather than a commercial organisation which might appear to have bias.

It isn’t easy to prescribe exercise to people, especially if they have one or more chronic diseases. But the evidence for exercise is compelling. Recent Nuffield Health research with the London School of Economics highlighted the health and financial benefits of exercising, suggesting that if the average person did just 12 minutes’ more exercise a day, they could make substantial reductions in their risk of developing lifestyle-related diseases. If the facts are clearly explained, and in context, people will most likely be more inclined to exercise, especially if there is support available to guide them.”

Originally published in Health Club Management 2013 issue 6

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