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Experts Talk GLP-1s & Fitness Programming

Experts Talk GLP-1s & Fitness Programming

Experts at the 2024 IDEA & ACSM Summit share how fitness professionals can tap into the synergy between weight-loss drugs and exercise programs

At the forefront of the battle against obesity, a panel of exercise physiology and weight management experts presented a session at the 2024 IDEA & ACSM Health & Fitness Summit, February 22-25 in Chicago, to explore the integration of GLP-1 medications into exercise programming. 

The session, “Understanding Contemporary Anti-Obesity Medications and the Role of the Exercise Professional,” shed light on the synergistic relationship between GLP-1 medication therapy and exercise for weight management, and explored challenges fitness professionals face when working with clients who take an anti-obesity agent.

GLP-1s & Programming Considerations

The session, presented by John Jakicic, PhD, Robert Kushner, MD and Renee Rogers, PhD, offered multifaceted perspectives on the complexities surrounding GLP-1 medications and their implications for fitness professionals. Panelists highlighted that these medications are not indicated for modest weight loss. 

Kushner, a seasoned obesity medicine physician and medical director of the Center for Lifestyle Medicine at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, said that anti-obesity medications are “highly effective for the treatment of obesity,” and can help control appetite.

He stressed that these medications should be used under the supervision of a doctor and are meant to be part of a comprehensive weight management plan that includes diet, exercise and behavioral therapy.

As people lose weight on new anti-obesity medications, a concern is emerging that a significant portion may be lean mass, which has been misconstrued by some as specifically being muscle mass.

Session at the 2024 IDEA & ACSM Health & Fitness Summit in Chicago (credit: Greg Margason)

Jakicic, a research professor in the Department of Internal Medicine in the Division of Physical Activity and Weight Management, University of Kansas Medical Center, said it’s important to clarify that a change in lean body mass does not necessarily reflect the change in muscle mass. Muscle is only one component of lean mass, he said, and muscle mass has not been measured in any studies at this point, although he indicated that it was currently being researched.

Health and fitness professionals should be careful about making claims that programming can stop or attenuate lean mass and muscle mass loss for clients who are taking anti-obesity agents, according to Jakicic.

GLP-1s & Behavior Change

Rogers, senior scientist at the University of Kansas Medical Center and chair of ACSM’s Strategic Health Initiative on Behavioral Strategies, brought attention to the behavioral barriers faced by people on anti-obesity medications, including self-efficacy (confidence) issues. She stressed the need for fitness professionals to create inclusive environments that prioritize individual health goals over weight-centric programming. 

“By fostering partnerships with prescribing healthcare providers, fitness professionals can play a pivotal role in supporting clients on their weight loss journey,” Rogers said. 

A key point from Rogers’ research, which she touched on during the session, was that many people experience stigma directly and indirectly from fitness and other health professionals for using these medications, which discourages some people from seeking exercise support. 

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“This creates an opportunity for the fitness industry to create welcoming and accepting spaces,” she said, underlining client-centered programming over method-centered programming where the client’s personal health goals are emphasized over weight loss. 

“This is also a critical time for developing partnerships with healthcare providers who prescribe these medications so their patients can incorporate exercise and physical activity into treatment plans,” she said, adding that the goal is to become a trusted member of the obesity treatment team. 

The Future of GLP-1s in Fitness

In light of the ever-growing prevalence of obesity and the increasing adoption of GLP-1 medications as a treatment modality, the insights gleaned from the 2024 IDEA & ACSM Health & Fitness Summit panel hold implications for the future of GLP-1 usage. 

Rogers said that most clinicians prescribing these medications can only recommend that their patients engage in exercise, but it is the fitness professional who can make this a reality. 

“This starts with understanding how these effective agents work and are properly prescribed, staying up on the science of obesity care, and being accepting of clients who choose to take these medications,” she said, adding that fitness professionals are the “special sauce” and they have the skills and knowledge to help clients find joy in movement, feel comfortable and safe when starting a new program, and develop health-related goals beyond what happens to the number on the scale.” 

The 2024 IDEA & ACSM Health & Fitness Summit panel was part of a larger event that merged IDEA Personal Trainer Institute and the ACSM Health & Fitness Summit in a reimagined, new conference. ACSM’s 2024 Annual Meeting is happening May 28-31 in Boston and 2024 IDEA World is set to take place July 10-14 in Los Angeles.

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