If you have interest in becoming a fitness practitioner, consider the following recommendations: Enroll in exercise science at an institution of higher learning, such as a two-year or four-year college. This will provide you with both the general educational background and the specific instructional skills to function at the highest level in the field of exercise.

We are living in a most critical time with respect to life on Earth.


My parents were dairy farmers in upstate New York. They had telephones and radios and eventually televisions, but their physically demanding lifestyle left them little time to sit in front of a screen.


In contrast, very few members of my generation have physically demanding occupations, and most opt for relatively sedentary lifestyles.


According to a recent survey of more than 80,000 adults, less than 5 percent perform regular physical activities of even a moderate effort level.


Unlike my parents’ generation, it is difficult for people in 2011 to spend time away from a screen. In addition to hundreds of television channels, computers and cellphones, Facebook and texting seemingly compel all but the most dedicated exercisers to spend almost all of their waking hours in front of some sort of screen.


While there are undoubtedly many personal and professional advantages associated with electronic technology, perhaps the most unfortunate effect is far less time devoted to physical activity.


The result is a society in which nearly 85 percent of the adult population (and a large percentage of the youth population) has too little muscle and too much fat. In fact, too little muscle is a predisposing reason for too much fat. Less muscle leads to a lower metabolic rate, which results in fewer calories burned 24 hours a day and more calories stored as body fat.


Perhaps most disturbing, excessive body fat is associated with illnesses and infirmities that are increasing at an alarming rate. For example, the increased number of obese adults is essentially paralleled by an increased incidence of diabetes.


It is predicted that, without a change in our present sedentary lifestyle, one-third of all American adults will experience this debilitating disease by 2030. Higher rates of diabetes lead to higher rates of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease, both of which are also adversely affected by too much body fat. The physical problems related to high percentages of body fat include cancer, elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, lower back pain, arthritis and associated infirmities.


Although one of every two adults is currently following a low-calorie diet plan, this approach to weight loss has little permanent benefit, as evidenced by the increasing number of obese adults. Research reveals that 95 percent of all dieters regain all the weight they lost within one year. This is because dieting reduces muscle tissue and metabolic rate, which makes it extremely difficult to maintain the weight loss.


Because the key to reducing body fat is muscular activity that increases metabolic rate, strength training is the most effective means for attaining and maintaining desirable body composition. Yet, very few people know how to implement an appropriate strength-training program, and even fewer adults actually perform regular resistance exercise.


So how do we educate the public about the benefits of strength training? And how do we motivate people to engage in this life-changing physical activity?


My hope is that many more people will consider careers as fitness professionals. If we don’t begin to address serious health issues from a preventive perspective, we will soon overwhelm our medical system.


If you have interest in becoming a fitness practitioner, consider the following recommendations:


- Enroll in exercise science at an institution of higher learning, such as a two-year or four-year college. This will provide you with both the general educational background and the specific instructional skills to function at the highest level in the field of exercise.


Your college courses will also prepare you to attain a national fitness certification by passing a comprehensive professional examination. This is an essential step in becoming a marketable fitness practitioner, as most YMCA’s, health clubs and exercise facilities place a strong preference on hiring instructional staff who have both a college degree and a national fitness certification.


The most prestigious and popular certifications are the certified personal trainer credentials from the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.


- Get supervised practical experience as a student intern or as a volunteer instructor under the mentorship of a master trainer. While exercise experience is not an acceptable substitute for academic education, neither is academic education an acceptable substitute for instructional experience. Both are highly desirable for achieving excellence as a fitness professional.


- You may also want to consider a specialization within the field of exercise, such as youth fitness, sports conditioning, group exercise, weight-loss programming, strength training, older adult fitness, functional training, cardiac rehabilitation, etc. It is advantageous to be recognized as having specialized expertise as well as generalized abilities as a personal trainer. Becoming a recognized leader in specific exercise areas requires additional time and training, but is well worth the effect.


Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches exercise science at Quincy College in Massachusetts and consults for the South Shore YMCA. He has authored 24 books on physical fitness.