A Chat with Janis Newton
1. You made a career in the fitness industry. Would I be safe to assume that you were an active child growing up?
Being active was built into my generation more than with today’s youth. We didn’t watch much TV and, of course, didn’t have computers, video games or mobile devices. We spent hours every day outside playing games and in constant motion. My family loved to travel and explore so we were always walking, hiking and learning about the world around us. As far as an organized activity, I was very much into gymnastics and wanted to be an Olympic gymnast — ha! Since that didn’t materialize, I enjoyed the gymnastics skills required for high school and college cheerleading.
- At what point did you realize that having a career in the fitness industry was a possibility?
When I became involved in fitness there was no “career” in the field. The fitness industry was in its infancy — there was no group exercise, no personal training, no sports-specific or disease-specific programming. Kenneth Cooper had just begun researching the correlation between aerobic exercise and heart disease. I was exposed to the fitness industry with my first job, which required taking courses in kinesiology and anatomy. I became passionate with movement, exercise and the potential of the human body to improve fitness and health. I had no idea where the fitness industry was headed, but I stayed involved while raising kids. Twenty-five years ago it became a “career” when Gil Bradham offered me a full-time job at MUSC.
- One of the great things about fitness is that it is often a lifelong endeavor. Are there many people whom you started with who are still involved in the industry?
It is amazing how many fitness professionals in Charleston have been in the industry for over 30 years. I have an old Rock the Boat (a fitness event on the Yorktown) poster from the early ’90s that included many of the fitness professionals from all over the tri-county area, and most everyone is still involved in some capacity today. Of course, we dress differently than way back then — which is a good thing! Also, the Wellness Center has many members who have been physically active consistently for over 25 years … It is a lifelong endeavor for everyone!
- How did a career at the MUSC Wellness Center come about?
I was working for both Roper Hospital Health and Fitness and for MUSC Wellness Center. One day Gil Bradham, dean of Student Life and a talented surgeon at MUSC, came into my office at the Wellness Center and informed me that I was going to quit Roper and go full time at MUSC. In that two-minute conversation, my MUSC career began! He was my first boss at MUSC and instrumental, along with Jim Edwards, Marcus Newberry, Layton McCurdy and others, for getting the Wellness Center built and offering such a wonderful addition to student life at MUSC.
- You have created and been involved in many different health and fitness programs. Can you tell us which ones you are most proud of?
I am proud of any program that helps others change the way they live their life and results in improved physical, mental and spiritual health. Of course I am proud of the Healthy Charleston Challenge, which has won two national awards, but I am also proud of our Piece It Together Autism Program and Cancer Survivor Program and our work with disease management clients and those in recovery. The health professionals at the Wellness Center are passionate and dedicated to helping improve the health of the community.
- The fitness industry is constantly evolving. What are some of the biggest changes you have seen over the years?
The fitness industry is a multibillion-dollar industry that provides both good and bad products and information for consumers. In spite of misinformation that has contributed to the chronic disease and obesity issue, I do see consumers getting more educated and selective in their pursuit of better health. People do care about their health and have a better understanding of their incredible power in changing their health profile. We have seen constant updates in technology, improved exercise clothing, better variety and quality of exercise equipment and more educated fitness professionals. Fortunately, we have also seen a focus on behavior change for long-term lifestyle health. We’ve come a long way since leg warmers, toe-touches and shaking fat off with the old vibrator machines.
- That being said, what do you think the future holds for the fitness industry?
I certainly think that technology will be an important factor in shaping the future of the fitness industry. Technology will continue to drive the way we plan our fitness activities, the way we monitor our output and measure our results. I think it will improve the variety of activities and cross-training potential for exercise enthusiasts. New apps are coming out daily that make it easy to book activities and remind you to meet your daily goals. However, don’t ever underestimate the importance of the fitness professional providing personal guidance and accountability to maximize long-term lifestyle goals. I also think the millennials and baby boomers will play an important role in future fitness programming.
- In closing, there are many obvious benefits to leading a healthy, active lifestyle. What would you say is a hidden benefit that may not get the attention that others do?
Two words: YOUR BRAIN
I think improved brain health should be the main focus for everyone. Research shows that exercise is our best defense against not only chronic disease but also cognitive decline and other functions associated with the brain, such as depression, ADD, addiction and Alzheimer’s. Exercise and healthy eating truly bolster the infrastructure of the brain and will rock your world.