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Nerio Alessandri: Health is wealth

For the Technogym founder, there’s a big difference between fitness and wellness. The Italian wellpreneur explains the concept that saw him build the company into a household name around the world 

“I saw it as an opportunity to create something safer and easier to use, and built my first machine during my free time in the evenings and on weekends.” ~Nerio Alessandri

Back in the ’80s, when Olivia Newton John’s smash pop hit Physical! started a fitness craze in the US followed by rest of the world, Italian entrepreneur Nerio Alessandri launched a new vision, rooted in Latin phrase mens sana in corpore sano, meaning “a sound mind in a sound body”. In 1983, he founded in his hometown Cesena, in northern Italy, Technogym — a company dedicated to wellness as opposed to fitness, with a dash of la dolce vita. He was just
22 years old at the time. 

Carefully crafting his words, Alessandri stresses the distinction between wellness and fitness. “The concept of fitness and wellness is that fitness is about looking good, while wellness is about feeling good,” he tells Debonair. “Wellness has an emotional approach, so much more than hedonistic fitness. It allows us to improve our life, have more energy and creativity at work and live longer. 

“Fitness and a healthy diet are just parts of wellness.”

A devotion to wellness has worked out well for the 56-year-old, who trains three times per week. Today, Technogym isn’t just one of the world’s largest makers of high-end gym equipment; it has become a prime mover in the fiercely competitive wellness economy, tapping countries, and its people, to work out on its sophisticated fitness machines.

“I saw it as an opportunity to create something safer and easier to use, and built my first machine during my free time in the evenings and on weekends.” ~Nerio Alessandri

“Wellness is aspirational,” says the wellpreneur, who originally wanted to be a fashion designer. 

In his fitness equipment business as well he stayed true to the design details of his original route — those machines, which double up as haute interior decor, blur the boundaries between technology and creativity. “In my free time, I visit
art galleries and exhibitions, as I love design and contemporary art.” 

Trained as an industrial designer, Alessandri built his first fitness machine in his father’s garage as, he says, gym equipment back then “lacked technology and design”. 

“I saw it as an opportunity to create something safer and easier to use, and built my first machine during my free time in the evenings and on weekends.”

Soon after, he moved to rooms on the grounds where the expansive Technogym Village, its international headquarters, now stand. 

Alessandri is passionate about shaping Technogym, which has around 2,000 employees worldwide and 1,000 based in Cesena, around a concept of wellness. The Antonio Citterio-designed 150,000sqm headquarters features a wellness centre, wellness garden, wellness restaurant and in offices there are no chairs, just balls for seats and all meetings take place at high tables to force employees to stand up. “Wellness at work is a key asset for companies. In the increasingly competitive world, leading enterprises stand out not only for the quality of their products, but also for the worth of their human resources,” says Alessandri, who has written three books on the subject, including Born to Move. 

He’s also launched the Wellness Foundation, a non-profit organisation promoting scientific research and education. Wellness at work is an issue global companies are increasingly cottoning on to as well, he says. In fact, providing machines, fitness programmes and apps to companies is now Technogym’s fastest-growing market.

“Wellness at work is a key asset for companies. In the increasingly competitive world, leading enterprises stand out not only for the quality of their products, but also for the worth of their human resources,” says Nerio Alessandri.

For any company and economy, encouraging people to take care of their health makes sense, he says, due to the risk of high healthcare costs if they don’t. “A healthy population is the backbone of a sustainable economy.”

“The digital revolution is changing our lives every day,” says Alessandri. “It’s a game changer in wellness as well, personalising physical exercises.” 

For Alessandri, the global wellness industry, worth an estimated $3.4 trillion, according to the Global Wellness Institute, represents a “great social opportunity”. There is growing evidence, he says, that focusing holistically on wellness can reduce healthcare costs by emphasising prevention over treatment. According to reports, chronic diseases, caused by sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy diet, are the top causes of death in the world — 35 million per year. Alessandri reckons one root cause of today’s healthcare crisis is that health, lifestyle and wellness are not suitably joined up. Alessandri has even taken his wellness mantra to the testosterone-fuelled corporate world. Last year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he addressed global leaders on how wellness can play a role in driving the global economy. “The workplace is where people spend most of their time. And if health and wellbeing are promoted there, company productivity will rise and social sustainability will improve,” says Alessandri, who also is part of the WEF-launched Workplace Wellness Alliance. 

His passion for health and wellbeing is impossible to ignore. He cites data supporting his argument. “A Harvard-led meta-analysis identifies an average return on investment of $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programmes.” 

Also, he says, apart from health, the drive, discipline and determination needed to work out and compete are exactly the same skills needed to get to the top. A key to his success has been placing emphasis on an area many of his contemporaries could not fully understand — digital innovation. In 1996, Technogym launched the industry’s first software system to help people training in the gym, and released the first gym machine with a built-in TV system in 2002. In 2007, it built internet-connected exercise equipment, and in 2012 developed a line of products that tap into the cloud. Last year, it launched an interactive treadmill that detects the runner’s tread to create a personalised music playlist.

Technogym allows individuals, through cloud-connected workout equipment and mobile apps, to create their profiles and use technology to analyse their performance while permitting them to carry that data from machine to machine. “They can access their personal training programme and data anywhere at anytime,” he adds. 

Overall, Technogym has 240 international patents, and has some 200-odd
R&D professionals, with backgrounds as diverse as engineering and physiotherapy.In recent years, Alessandri has expanded his company’s reach to more than 100 countries, including the UAE, Russia and China. It has supplied gym equipment for the past six Olympic Games, and sales hit $581.2 million in 2015 — the most recent full-year figures available. Its equipment can be found in top-flight hotels, gyms and homes — a reported 65,000 wellness centres and 100,000 private homes around the world are equipped with Technogym products.

Maybe health really is wealth... 

technogym.com

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