She was the kid with a lemonade stand; a self-starter with an entrepreneurial spirit. The only characteristic perhaps stronger was her conviction that she was meant to do something great for the world. Lisa Dougherty, founder of the Medical Fitness Network (MFN) and owner of Whole Body Fitness, is committed to a mission to improve lives, especially those with health challenges or suffering from chronic disease.
I’ve had several opportunities over the last two years to work with Lisa and there is one undeniable thought I come away with after each encounter: Lisa Dougherty may be the most fiercely committed individual I’ve ever met. Her dedication to MFN, to her clients and to the industry is as solid and unwavering as they come.
Lisa was inspired to become a fitness professional by her father, who battled cancer three times. She graduated from the University of California, Irvine’s Fitness Instructor program in 1999 and has continued to seek education and specialty certifications to properly assist people with health challenges and chronic disease.
Since she started her business, Whole Body Fitness, clients began to seek her out following a surgery or injury, a medical diagnosis or exacerbation of a pre-existing condition. Many of them were cancer survivors or clients with MS, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, stoke, CVD, morbid obesity, mental health disorders or developmental disabilities (schizophrenia and autism) and many prenatal and postpartum new moms.
Lisa knew it was important to understand the pathology and progression of various diseases in order to design safe and effective fitness programs for those wanting to make the transition from medical management and/or physical therapy to a regular physical activity program. As she built her medical fitness business, people began contacting her from around the country looking for fitness professionals with her background and knowledge. Lisa realized there was a dire need to connect clients, fitness professionals and patient organizations to meet this demand.
So was born the Medical Fitness Network; a membership organization like no other that offers valuable networking benefits plus in-depth educational opportunities for professionals to engage and better serve the nation's aging population. The MFN is a free educational and online resource directory for people to locate fitness and allied healthcare professionals who have education in and provide services for those with chronic disease/medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, fibromyalgia, heart disease, mental health challenges, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, osteoporosis, respiratory disease, stroke and women’s health issues including pre- and postpartum care.
Her journey to success over the last near 20 years certainly hasn’t come without challenges, both personally and professionally, but her resiliency and endless dedication to her mission is indisputable. Among her many accolades, Lisa was a PFP 2017 Trainer of the Year finalist, and we had the opportunity to learn about what drives Lisa, what inspires her, and what the future holds for her, MFN and for the industry. Here is a glimpse…
LV: What was your motivation behind creating the Medical Fitness Network?
LD: First, “medical fitness” offers a huge opportunity for fitness professionals and the industry to be part of the healthcare team. There are 100 million baby boomers, totaling almost 30% of our population controlling three-fourths of America’s wealth. They are also expected to live longer than previous generations as a result of improved medical management of chronic diseases. This is the largest population segment in our economy and they are seeking professional help for their aging bodies. However, what this means is that people are living longer with potentially costly and debilitating diseases.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 80% of older adults have one chronic medical condition, and 50% have two or more. Regular physical activity is one globally accepted strategy to promote and preserve health. These members/clients, once thought of as the exception, are now becoming the norm. They have heard that not all exercise is created equal and they will be looking for gyms, programs and professionals who understand who they are and how they can be helped to restore function and preserve their quality of life.
Second, the fitness industry needs to have access to more and current education in these areas in order to better serve our aging population; and third, nonprofit medical and health organizations are trying to educate people on prevention, diet, wellness, stress management and encouraging people to exercise, yet they provide little or no resources for people to find help to carry this out.
After discovering these concerns, I cut back my own paid training hours to donate thousands of hours to create and grow a national registry of fitness and allied healthcare professionals to serve the community, the Medical Fitness Network.
LV: Are there any challenges you would say have been significant in your journey to success?
LD: Developing the Medical Fitness Network has been a tremendous undertaking. Creating a huge platform like this from the ground up to serve our nation and to educate and enlist the fitness industry to be part of the healthcare team has been challenging.
One of the other challenges I've had to overcome as the CEO of the MFN is being comfortable talking about myself. I've learned that to help this project grow and become the nation's fitness and allied healthcare provider resource, I would have to step outside my comfort zone into the limelight. So that's what I'm doing. I am proud of my personal accomplishments as a fitness professional but even more so of the accolades that come to the MFN.
LV: What exciting projects is the MFN currently working on?
LD: MFN donates its services as a national database management company currently to 20 nonprofit medical, health organizations that do not offer resources for locating fitness and allied healthcare professionals interested in working with their populations. My goal is to donate our services to 100 organizations, medical centers and corporate wellness programs by 2018.
I'm also excited to share that I have also recently been the catalyst in the development of new "medical fitness courses" by introducing the American Breast Cancer Foundation and the Alzheimer's Research & Prevention Foundation to Fitness Learning Systems (FLS). They are one of MFN's education partners. I chose FLS to be the educational platform of these new courses because they are IACET accredited. In addition to providing CEC's to the fitness industry these courses will be able to be offered at colleges across the nation. I will be working with the National Osteoporosis Foundation in creating a course for the fitness industry in 2017. One on “Parkinson's and Exercise” is planned as well.
I believe education is important. The MFN has partnered with 50 education companies that provide members with savings on certifications and CEC's. I have also created an industry-acclaimed free educational webinar series where members gain access to latest in research and trends in the industry.
When Lisa started in the fitness industry, she probably didn’t know she would be celebrated for her accomplishments by the likes of the Huffington Post or be selected as a finalist for the White House Champions of Change. She probably didn’t know she would be the founder of a nonprofit like the Medical Fitness Foundation that will make an even greater impact alongside her businesses. And while she probably has always been confident that she would make a difference in the world, I doubt she ever thought she would be leading a cause that has, and continues to, directly impact the lives of thousands.
On the surface, it may look as if Lisa has created an extensive network; offered a valuable website of resources and education; and opened the door for fitness professionals to expand their career. The reality is that Lisa Dougherty has created a movement. A movement that connects the millions of people seeking a greater quality of life with the caring, qualified professionals eagerly waiting to help them. Lisa’s vision and commitment energizes and elevates the industry and as a result, will undoubtedly leave a legacy of changing countless lives. Quite the journey to success that all started from a lemonade stand…
Companies & Titles: CEO, Medical Fitness Network; Owner, Whole Body Fitness
Education/Certifications: University of California, Irvine – Two-year Fitness Instructor Program, ACE Personal Trainer & Health Coach
Favorite equipment: For her clients – cables; for herself – jump rope
Favorite quote: “Whatever you are, be a good one”