WASHINGTON, DC -- More than 140 health and fitness industry leaders from 26 states gathered last week in Washington, DC, at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association’s Sixth Annual Legislative Summit. The IHRSA members mounted a coordinated effort to remove federal barriers to exercise and focus legislators’ attention on the need to transform the health care system from one that focuses on sick care to one that focuses on prevention and wellness, according to IHRSA.

During the two-day summit, the fitness advocates attended 133 meetings with members of Congress in which they encouraged support of two health promotion bills: The Personal Health Investment Today (PHIT) Act (H.R. 245) and The Workforce Health Improvement Program (WHIP) Act (H.R. 1748 and S. 1038).

The PHIT Act would allow people to pay for exercise and physical fitness programs, certain exercise equipment, and children’s sports league fees with pre-tax dollars through their flexible spending account, medical savings account or health savings account. That means Americans could save 20 to 30 percent a year on their fitness-related costs because they wouldn’t be paid for with taxable income.

“We all know the research on the benefits of exercise is piled high,” says Jonathan Ross, American Council on Exercise’s Personal Trainer of the Year and a fitness advocate who participated in the summit. “What we need to do—and what this legislation does—is take measures to make it easier for people to stay active in their lives.”

The WHIP Act promotes wellness in the workforce by allowing for off-site fitness center memberships as a tax-free benefit for employees. Current law allows employees to use on-site fitness facilities free of any tax implications, but when a business needs to outsource this health benefit, employees who receive off-site fitness center subsidies are required to pay income tax on the benefits, and their employers bear the associated administrative costs of complying with IRS rules. The WHIP Act eliminates this tax on off-site fitness center subsidies, making it easier for all employers to offer exercise incentives for their workers.