Sara Hodson is CEO of LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic, an ultra-private gym franchise with 15 locations. She knows that exercise is a miracle drug, and everybody needs a prescription.
“Exercise is medicine and is the foundation of a healthy lifestyle,” says Hodson. “If you could bottle exercise in a pill, it would be one of the most effective medications on the market for the prevention and treatment of chronic health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. It is also more effective than antidepressants for mental health. You can change your body and your mind with only ten minutes of exercise.”
In Canada, over 80 percent of the population does not get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise weekly. LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic delivers solutions for blood pressure and diabetes management, arthritis, cancer care, chronic disease prevention, cardiac rehabilitation, obesity, and more in a clinically supervised setting. Highly trained Clinical Exercise Physiologists provide customized programs to everyone, tailored to improve their body function and therefore, their quality of life. Sara Hodson and the LIVE WELL program are changing lives.
Sara is also President of the Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC), the national trade association for the Canadian fitness industry. Sara has been instrumental in helping fitness businesses navigate the pandemic and is also leading a federal proposal to make gym memberships tax-deductible. Both the World Health Organization and the United Nations have made physical activity a primary advisory goal for healthcare policies.
It makes sense that physician-prescribed exercise is at the cutting edge of medicine, merging health care and the fitness industry; Sara Hodson and LIVE WELL Exercise Clinic are leading the way forward. “We believe we can emerge from the pandemic healthier than before. But we need trained fitness professionals to lead the way.”
Sara Hudson took time out of her busy schedule to share her story and knowledge with Myriam Callot and AT FORTY FIVE. Listen to the full interview and the podcast here
How It All Started
After finishing her degree at UBC in Kinesiology, Sara became a Clinical Exercise Physiologist working in cardiac rehabilitation and diabetes management. She saw a need for patients to have clinically supervised medical fitness programs beyond the hospital walls.
Hodson’s entrepreneurial spirit led her to take the bold move to start LIVE WELL in 2011, when she opened her first clinic in White Rock, BC. She approached doctors who saw how patients benefited from rehab programs but lacked the support after the program finished. LIVE WELL Exercise Clinics stepped up to deliver a life-altering, health-focused gym that keeps people safe and supervised while they exercise. LIVE WELL’s inclusive community makes everyone feel welcome.
Why We Don’t Exercise
“The number one reason why many do not exercise is that we are scared or worried,” says Hodson. “Am I going to hurt my knee more or my back? I’m worried about my blood pressure. I’m worried about my blood sugar levels. The other reason we don’t exercise is that we don’t have enough time.”
But one reason that we see at LIVE WELL is perception – some members are worried about how they are going to be perceived. They have tried a traditional gym setting and tell us they felt intimidated or they didn’t fit in. They are worried about being judged for their level of fitness, the shape of their body, their age, or not knowing how to execute an exercise properly.
These are all the factors that are stopping people from being active and these are all of the factors that we chose to overcome at LIVE WELL.”
The Rewards Of Exercising
“The most rewarding part of our journey, particularly in the last two challenging years, has been walking inside LIVE WELL, speaking to our members, and hearing their stories of all that they have overcome.
Some of the success stories will bring you to tears! We have a WIN WALL in every location where our members celebrate their WINS. Here are some of them:
“I got off my three-times-a-day insulin.”
“I no longer need blood pressure medication.”
“I’m living my life to the fullest”
“I’m getting back to my golf game.”
I’m able to keep up with my grandkids and get down on the floor.”
I’m looking forward to traveling and I booked a trip and I know I have the confidence that I can travel and keep up with it.
Ultimately, we want to get active so we can live our life to the fullest.
It’s interesting that in the first 30 days after we start exercising, the biggest impact that we have on our health is our sleep. It’s our quality of sleep, not necessarily our quantity of sleep. If before you were only sleeping for 5 hours, you’re not suddenly magically going to sleep 8. When we get better sleep, it changes who we are. We have more energy and feel happier.”
Exercise Supports Our Social Health
“We had a gentleman thank us for getting his wife back to art class. I thought what an interesting appreciation for exercise. Now she was sleeping better. She had more energy and confidence. Before joining LIVE WELL, she thought she would never return to her art class which gave her so much joy. Now she was able to go out in the evening. She had the confidence, energy, and spirit to go do her art. She was engaging again with this group of friends, her community. A huge component of our health that we often don’t consider is our social connectedness – it is fundamental to our overall health. When we can create more social health connections, we, in fact, become healthier individuals. As soon as something goes wrong with your health your social health is compromised.
Every single day I hear stories like these from our members – amazing and phenomenal ways that they have changed their lives. It is the most rewarding part of LIVE WELL
Are You A Priority?
“It all starts with the ability for us to give ourselves permission to make ourselves a priority. Women take care of everyone else – and often we don’t take care of ourselves.
It’s interesting because when we look at fitness as a gift to ourselves, we change the way that we think about it. Think about it this way: We are not likely to book ourselves a day at the spa, spend the day there and pay the bill for it at the end of the day. We would procrastinate or likely we would just not ever do that for ourselves! Yet the moment we’re given a gift card from a family member or a friend to go to the spa, we are on the phone booking that same day, changing our schedule to make it happen!!!
We need to give ourselves the gift of health and wellness and embrace exercise with the same level of enthusiasm for exercise. We have to prioritize it.”
Getting To Know Sara
What is something surprising about you that most people don’t know?
Most people see a businesswoman running a very busy franchise business, but my number one job is being a mother to four kids who each have very busy schedules! I co-parent with my children’s father, and so when I have the kids, I am often on calls on Bluetooth in my car, driving one to dance class, or another to an equestrian event, hockey, basketball, and so forth! I believe that there is no perfect solution, and family comes first. LIVE WELL is a family, so we make time to find joy in what we do, and we are patient with each other!
What is your key strength?
I am highly determined and very focused on what needs to be done. Supporting my franchise partners, and driving our key mission to bring joy to people through healthy lifestyle changes. When you join LIVE WELL, you become a key player in your OWN life. I have learned to take charge of my life, and my business. Every challenge is an opportunity to grow and evolve.
When have you been most satisfied in your life?
We started LIVE WELL in 2011 knowing we wanted it to be in every community in Canada. What has been the most satisfying is finding partners who embrace the LIVE WELL concept as much as we do.
If you could meet anyone for lunch, who would it be?
Likely Michelle Obama. She is fiercely determined and managed to balance being the First Lady with launching incredible programs, traveling the world all the while raising exceptional young women. She also pushed the needle on health! I would love to get her tips on how she balances it all – and ask her what it is like being married to Barack!
What was the best advice you ever received?
Challenges are opportunities. One of my business mentors told me this early on that “any obstacle in your path will present you opportunities to often find a better way.” Before COVID, we had a business model with LIVE WELL that was excellent but required a larger space. One of the challenges for our franchise partners is finding their location to open the clinic.
COVID allowed us to look at what we were doing and be flexible with our space requirements, which allows for adaptable sizes of LIVE WELL clinics to suit the franchisee and the community they serve. We might not have looked to do that if not for COVID.”
What do you need to make more room in your life for?
That’s an excellent question. I learned early on that if I don’t take time for myself then I quickly reach burnout. It is important to balance time for my exercise, my kids, my health, and self-care. I also need to do the things that I love doing – like riding my horse and running trails.
In August 2021, I became President of Canada’s Fitness Industry Council. Suddenly there were new demands on me. I could feel that inner pressure building up. So, I quickly set boundaries and made sure that I was taking care of myself.
If you could learn anything new, what would it be?
“I would love to explore different styles of cooking from different cultures. I love Asian-inspired food and would love to know how to cook it myself – healthy of course!
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The Business Opportunity
“We decided about five years ago to make LIVE WELL franchises available to entrepreneurs who could find the same joy that I found. We have three core values that we operate within Live Well. The first one is we champion potential in each one of our members, staff, and our franchises.
But it’s ultimately so that we can find joy, and this truly is a purpose-led business. Currently, people want to combine, the ability for a profit with purpose. Live Well Exercise Clinic offers an exact business opportunity for people