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Battle of the bulge packing muscle onto fitness careers

As the American waistline continues its spread, fitness is shaping up as one of the hottest careers of this tepid economic recovery.

Employment of fitness trainers and instructors is expected to grow by a brisk 24 per cent in the decade to 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as businesses, health professionals and insurance companies take sharper aim at the sedentary lifestyle.

"The obesity epidemic has produced a lot of noise and talk and chatter," said Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise (ACE), which has certified more than 50,000 fitness professionals.

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Obesity rates have skyrocketed in the last 20 years. More than one third of adults in the United States are obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mr. Bryant said the health crisis is strongly linked to the lifestyle choices addressed by fitness professionals, such as personal trainers and group fitness instructors.

Despite the shaky economy, health club membership is up more than 10 per cent over the past three years, according to IHRSA, the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

Exercise physiologist and ACE spokesperson Jessica Matthews said workplace wellness campaigns also increase demand for fitness professionals.

Mr. Bryant said the average salary for a certified personal trainer is about $53,000 (U.S.) and rising. A high-school diploma is sufficient to begin a career in fitness, he added, although more than two-thirds of professionals have college degrees.

Ms. Matthews said the industry attracts career changers driven by the downturn to reinvent their working selves. While you don't need college to enter the field, she said, continuing education is a must to remain in it.

"It's accessible, but it involves a great commitment," Ms. Matthews said. "There's the preparation and study for the exam, and then the requirement of continuing education to stay current."

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